Alan Wong's New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu's Award-Winning Chef by Alan Wong, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Alan Wong's New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu's Award-Winning Chef

Alan Wong's New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu's Award-Winning Chef

by Alan Wong

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One of Hawaii's top chefs combines the tastes of the Islands with influences from China and Japan to create a collection of 100 unique and unusual recipes for delightful fare.


One of Hawaii's top chefs combines the tastes of the Islands with influences from China and Japan to create a collection of 100 unique and unusual recipes for delightful fare.

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Ten Speed Press
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Chapter One

The New Wave Luau

  4 Kalua Pig

6 Kalua Pig Risotto with Two-Cabbage Slaw

7 Kalua Pig Kanaka Nachos

8 Kalua Pig Caesar Salad in Crispy Cheese Baskets with Poi Vinaigrette and Anchovy Dressing

10 Kalua Duck in Taro Pancakes with Poi Vinaigrette

11 Kalua Turkey Quesadillas with Minted Mango Relish and Hawaiian Chile Pepper Sour Cream

12 Steamed Clams with Kalua Pig, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Spinach in "Da Bag"

15 Chicken "Hawaiian Plate" with Pipikaula and Lomi Salmon on Taro Leaf Sauce with Luau Lumpia

16 Pipikaula

16 Gingered Sweet Potatoes

17 Lawalu Ehu: Leaf-Steamed Snapper with Mushroom Sauce

18 Nori-Wrapped Akule Stuffed with Poke, and Wasabi Sauce

20 Steamed Uku Laulau with
Ginger-Scallion Sauce

21 Refried Taro

21 Lomi Tomato Relish

While most of the recipes in this book draw on native Hawaiian foods for everyday meals, this chapter focuses on the foods and traditions of the Hawaiian feast, the luau. The celebratory feast is as old as society in Polynesia, but you may be surprised that the term luau is a relatively recent invention, dating from the late 1820s, when European sailors and traders described the feasts they attended. No doubtthe name arose because of the number of dishes featuring luau leaves, the young green taro tops that are always served at Hawaiian feasts. In the 1850s, a Honolulu newspaper, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, began referring to "luaus," and the term became widely used and recognized.

    Historically, what we call a luau was known as aha'aina (literally, meal gatherings); smaller parties were called pa'ina. Aha'aina were held for numerous reasons, just as luaus are today (see sidebar on page 13). Typical dishes would be kalua pig and mullet, to honor the god Lono; taro, which was believed to be Lono's plant form; shrimp; crab; and seaweed.

    The first ruler who united all of the Hawaiian islands, King Kamehameha, who lived from 1758 to 1819, sometimes held celebrations that lasted for weeks. Later, King Kalakaua (1847-1891) often gave luaus at his royal palace in Honolulu for hundreds of people at a time, leading to his nickname of "the merry monarch." The luau was also the royal family's preferred method of displaying hospitality to visiting dignitaries. Local papers recorded a luau Kalakaua held in honor of the author Robert Louis Stevenson, who was visiting the islands. Princess (later Queen) Lili'uokalani hosted a luau in 1869 for the first visiting member of European royalty, Queen Victoria's son, Prince Alfred. The Hawaiian Gazette wrote that the luau was "the largest feast that has been spread for many years ... every variety of Hawaiian food was offered, to the amusement of the distinguished guest." The Princess liked to hold luaus lasting from late morning until sunset. Typically, they featured entertainment consisting of ancient hulas and chants, and games that displayed Hawaiian athletic prowess. One report comments: "On these occasions people were served everything that can be roasted or fried almost until comatose, before being revived with ice cream." This last reference suggests that the luau had long been adapted to meet contemporary taste.

    Descriptions of late-nineteenth century luaus mention flower leis given to welcome the guests and lacy maidenhair ferns strewn on the floor and tables stacked with pineapples, bananas, watermelons, mangoes, other fruits, and sugar cane. In front of each guest, a condiment dish contained ground kukui nut, red Hawaiian salt, chopped scallions, limu (seaweed), dried shrimp, and slices of dried fish. Coconut bowls placed around the table held lomi salmon, poi, fresh opihi, and squares of haupia in coconut cream. Large serving bowls held cooked sweet potatoes, taro leaves, and baked banana. The main luau dishes were served all at once: steaming hot kalua pig, poke, crabs, baby lobsters, fish baked in ti leaves, squid cooked in coconut milk, and cooked taro. Most of the food was eaten in a leisurely manner and with the hands. The highest compliment was "to suck one's fingers as audibly as possible," and to withdraw the fingers from the mouth with a satisfied smack in appreciation of the cuisine.

    Today, the luau lives on, enjoyed by Hawaiians of all ethnic backgrounds. With the luau, we celebrate the spirit of ohana and family, and mark important passages and events in our lives. Alas, the luaus experienced by tourists are all too often pale imitations of the real thing. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to an authentic family luau, drop everything and go!

    With the recipes in this chapter, I bring the traditional luau foods up to date and give them a new interpretation. If I were King of Hawaii for a day, I'd hold a luau just like they did in the last century. I'd invite my family and closest friends, and share these favorite dishes of mine, just as I hope you will share them with your guests. The main dishes and side dishes in this chapter can be mixed and matched in any combination. They can be prepared individually or as a large feast featuring many dishes. The recipes here serve four, but they can be doubled or tripled to fit the needs of your own luau.

Kalua Pig

Kalua Pig is perhaps the most traditional of all luau dishes. It is also invariably a key component of the Hawaiian Plate that you'll find at a local restaurant. It's interesting that similar barbecued pulled pork dishes are also traditional in countries with a Spanish or Portuguese heritage, such as Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil.

    The traditional preparation of Kalua Pig involves a whole carcass, building an underground oven, and a 2-day timescale. The results are succulent and the elaborate process makes for a special occasion. Luckily, you can achieve acceptable results with the convenient method using a much smaller cut of pork, a regular oven, and about 2 hours. Both methods are provided here to let you make the call.

Traditional Method

    Dig the imu, or underground oven, to a depth of 2 to 3 feet, and a little longer and wider than the pig to be roasted. Stack kiawe (mesquite) or guava kindling wood in the bottom of the imu, with larger firewood piled on top. Pile volcanic lava rocks on top of the wood; these are porous and the holes retain the heat, yet they will not crack when red hot. Light the wood and burn for 2 to 4 hours, or until the wood has burned and the rocks are red hot. Spread the coals evenly in the pit.

    Meanwhile, thoroughly clean the pig. Its dressed weight will be about half of the "on the trotter" weight (average dressed weight usually ranges from 50 to 200 pounds). Shave or singe off the coarse hair. Hang and drain the carcass overnight. Salt the pig inside and out with Hawaiian rock salt. Stuff hot stones inside the stomach and foreleg cavities and tie the legs together.

    Just before adding the pig to the imu, layer damp banana stumps and banana and ti leaves over the hot coals to create steam. Add the pig, belly up. Place additional damp banana and ti leaves over the pig, and then wet burlap bags to completely cover the pig, overlapping the edge of the imu (ancient Hawaiians used coconut cloth or matting). Add a layer of canvas to cover the burlap and to keep the steam inside. Cover the canvas with the dirt taken from the imu pit.

    You can cook other foods with the pig, such as duck, chicken, turkey, fish, taro, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes. Cook a 50-pound pig for 2½ to 3 hours in the imu; a 200 pounder will take double that time. An important part of preparing the pig and waiting for it to cook—and sometimes the whole point of the exercise—is the shared family time, socializing, and partying that takes place while the pig cooks.

    When the cooking time is up, carefully shovel the dirt from the canvas. Remove the layers of canvas, burlap, and leaves. Remove the stones from the pig's cavities. When cool enough, carve the pig and shred the meat.

Kalua is derived from the two Hawaiian words ka (the) and lua (hole), which refer to the imu or underground pit used for the oven. In ancient times, pig was often eaten as a ceremonial food, but it was kapu—forbidden—for women.

    The Hawaiians were unique among Polynesian societies in deriving salt from seawater; it was used to cure meat and fish and as a seasoning. They made salt by using wide salt pans, kaheka, typically 6 feet in diameter and 6 inches deep, which were made of earth and lined with clay (sometimes natural rock basins were used). Seawater was poured in, using calabashes, or the salt pans were positioned at the high-tide mark. The water would be evaporated by the sun over a period of days, leaving salt. Traditionally, salt made on Kauai was mixed with red earth (containing iron), and this red salt is still served at luaus and celebrations. Hawaiian salt was traded extensively in the 19th century, in the days before refrigeration, and was a prized commodity.

Convenient Method

    If you haven't the time or place for pit-steaming a whole pig, use this more convenient Kalua Pig recipe. For a further shortcut, substitute shredded smoked or roasted pork for the Kalua Pig in the recipes, but the flavors will be quite different. Be sure to use a brand of liquid smoke that contains no chemicals or preservatives, available at good natural foods grocery stores.

6 ti leaves, or 2 banana leaves
6 pounds butt, cut into 6 pieces about 2 inches thick
½ tablespoons Hawaiian or kosher salt
½ tablespoons all-natural liquid smoke flavoring

    Preheat the oven to 500°.

    Lay a piece of aluminum foil measuring 9 inches by 11 inches on a flat work surface. Place 3 ti leaves or 1 banana leaf on top of the foil, and the pork on top. Sprinkle with the salt and liquid smoke. Place the remaining 3 ti leaves or banana leaf on top of the pork. Cover with additional foil and seal tightly. Place the package in a large roasting pan, fill with 2 inches of water, and cover the pan with foil to seal in the steam.

    Cook for 1½ to 2 hours, or until tender. When cool, shred using 2 forks. Refrigerate for up to 5 days (or freeze) until needed.


Ti leaves are long, narrow, dark green, smooth, and shiny. They were used by ancient Hawaiians to wrap, insulate, and flavor foods for cooking as well as for decorative purposes. The leaves were also important for clothing, roofing material, ritual ceremonies, and many other uses. Ti leaves are considered to bring good luck. Whenever I travel I put a ti leaf in each bag to make sure it gets there, and the method hasn't failed yet. You can also eat the root of the ti plant after it is steamed in the imu; natural sugars in the root make it taste very sweet. The plant, which was brought to Hawaii from Polynesia centuries ago, grows well in rich soil and plenty of moisture.

Kalua Pig Risotto with Two-Cabbage Slaw

Kalua Pig is well suited to a dish like risotto. In fact, it's difficult to go too far wrong using Kalua Pig anywhere you would use pork. The slaw makes a simple and attractive garnish for all kinds of dishes.


( cup finely julienned carrots
( cup finely julienned red cabbage
( cup finely julienned green cabbage
1 tablespoon Slivered Scallions (page 175)

4½ cups Chicken Stock (page 177)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup diced onion
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, smashed
1 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons white wine
Salt to taste
6 tablespoons fresh corn kernels
¾ cup Kalua Pig (page 4)
3 tablespoons quartered mixed mushrooms, such as shiitakes, oyster, and button
6 tablespoons finely diced fresh or canned water chestnuts
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons truffle butter
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Lomi Tomato Relish
(page 21)

   In a bowl, combine the carrots, cabbages, and scallions. Refrigerate until needed.

    In a saucepan, bring 2½ cups of the stock to a boil. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Sauté the garlic and onion for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and rice, stirring so the rice is coated evenly with the oil. Add the wine. Stirring constantly, add the hot stock to the rice, ½ cup at a time, letting the rice absorb the liquid before adding more. Cook for 3 minutes after the last addition. Total cooking time from the first addition of the stock should be about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

    In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 cups of stock until just boiling. Add the corn and Kalua Pig and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, water chestnuts, and cooked rice mixture. Cook for 3 minutes longer, or until the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Swirl in the butter, truffle butter, and cheese. Mix until the butter is melted and completely incorporated. Season with salt.

    Divide among individual bowls. Garnish with the relish and slaw.


"Surely, even before the arrival of the first Polynesian settlers all those centuries ago, there were some indigenous animals on the islands?" one of our restaurant guests asked recently. The answer is no. Even the wild boar that still roam the more inaccessible parts of the islands were introduced here by man. Hawaii has always been so isolated from other land masses that the only indigenous land mammals are bats. Given their small size and poor eyesight, it would be interesting to know how they got here!

Kalua Pig Kanaka Nachos

These nachos use local Hawaiian ingredients. The Lomi Tomato Relish, guacamole, and Refried Taro all make wonderful accompaniments to these nachos—especially together—but if pressed for time, you can prepare just one or two of the sides.

Vegetable oil for deep-frying
5 wonton wrappers, cut into quarters
20 deep-fried taro chips (page 44)
1 cup Kalua Pig (page 4)
1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons shredded Monterey Jack cheese
¼ cup mozzarella cheese
¼ cup Refried Taro (page 21)
¼ cup Lomi Tomato Relish (page 21)
¼ cup Alan's Asian Guacamole (page 128)
4 teaspoons Hawaiian Chile Pepper Sour Cream (page 183), for garnish
¼ cup cilantro sprigs, for garnish

    Preheat the broiler.

    In a deep fryer or large saucepan over high heat, heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350°. Deep-fry the wonton wrappers for 2 to 2½ minutes, or until crisp and golden. Remove and drain on paper towels.

    Arrange the taro and wonton chips on a heatproof platter. Top with the Kalua Pig, lettuce, and cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Accompany with the Refried Taro, Lomi Tomato Relish, and Alan's Asian Guacamole. Garnish with the sour cream and cilantro.


Kanaka is a Hawaiian word dating from the nineteenth century meaning local, or native Hawaiian, and it was used to distinguish the indigenous population from the newcomers. In these more assimilated times, it's used much less.

One of the earliest written descriptions of a luau was contained in the journal of Richard Brinsley Hinds, published as The Journey of the Voyage of the Sulphur. In July 1837, Hinds was invited to a louhow in Manoa Valley (in what is now part of Honolulu). He records, not without some chauvinism, "It is said to be of native origin, and no doubt is, but has civilized customs grafted on it ... I previously thought louhow meant baked dog but I think. now that I was then in error. The essential part, and I believe the origin of the name, is the young leaves of the taro fixed in a particular manner, and which closely resembles spinach. A louhow must be cooked after the native fashion.... Visitors at a louhow must dispense with some of the luxuries of civilized society. The dinner is spread on a clean mat on the ground after the native fashion, and each person seating himself as he best can proceeds to work. In fact it is a Sandwich Island pic-nic."

Kalua Pig Caesar Salad in Crispy Cheese Baskets
with Poi Vinaigrette and Anchovy Dressing

In this recipe, the traditional Caesar salad meets the New Wave Luau. This dish is typical of how I create my recipes. I had tried several adaptations of the Caesar salad, but I was not completely satisfied with any of the results. Then one day, when I was hungry for a salad, I experimented with some of the sides and dressings already prepared for other dishes in the restaurant kitchen. First I added some Kalua Pig to the greens, then some of the Poi Vinaigrette that I use for the Kalua Duck (page 10). I sprinkled a little of the chile pepper vinaigrette and Caesar dressing over the salad, and presto: I had the salad of my dreams. (Recipes containing uncooked eggs are not recommended for immuno-compromised individuals or small children.)


1 egg plus 1 yolk
5 anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup water
1 cup olive oil
Salt to taste


¼ cup poi
½ cup Infused Tomato Water (page 176)
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon Chile Pepper Water (page 175)


4 cups grated Parmesan cheese


1 tablespoon butter
1 cup diced French bread
½ teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup Tomato-Chile Pepper Vinaigrette (page 58)
24 baby romaine lettuce leaves
4 anchovy fillets
4 teaspoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup warm Kalua Pig (page 4)

    To prepare the Anchovy Dressing, in a blender, combine the egg, yolk, anchovies, garlic, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, lemon juice, and water. With the machine running, slowly add the oil until it is completely incorporated. Season with salt. Refrigerate until needed.

    To prepare the Poi Vinaigrette, in a blender, combine the poi and tomato water and mix well. Add the vinegar and blend to incorporate. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until it is completely incorporated. Add the Chile Pepper Water and blend to incorporate. Refrigerate until needed.

    To prepare the cheese baskets, sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese evenly in a 6-inch nonstick pan. Place over low heat for about 2 minutes, or until the cheese melts together into a sheet and begins to bubble. While still warm and pliable, drape over the end of an upturned tumbler or soda can. Mold the cheese so that it forms a basket; as it cools it will harden and keep its basket shape. Remove from the glass or can and invert. Repeat for the remaining 3 baskets.

    To prepare the croutons, in a sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the bread and sauté tossing or stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper.

    To serve, drizzle 1 tablespoon each of the Anchovy Dressing, Poi Vinaigrette, and Tomato-Chile Pepper Vinaigrette around individual plates. Place a cheese basket in the middle of each plate and stand 6 lettuce leaves upright inside each basket. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the Anchovy Dressing over the lettuce in each basket. Top with an anchovy fillet and 1 teaspoon of the grated cheese. Divide the Kalua Pig into mounds next to each basket. Garnish with the croutons scattered around. Accompany with the remaining Anchovy Dressing.


Kalua Duck in Taro Pancakes with Poi Vinaigrette

Today, as in ancient times, duck, geese, and other fowl can be cooked in the imu together with, or instead of, pig or other meat. Because the traditional imu is somewhat time-consuming, I've designed a more convenient method. The duck retains all of its natural juiciness and develops a smoky flavor when cooked this way. You can substitute 1 pound of smoked duck meat, although the flavor will be different. The pancakes are a great way to enjoy taro. Store extra pancake batter in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and use pancakes for other recipes or on their own.

6 ti leaves, or 2 banana leaves
1 (5- to 6-pound) duck
2½ tablespoons Hawaiian or kosher salt
2½ tablespoons all natural liquid smoke flavoring


8 ounces taro
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 eggs
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 teaspoons vegetable oil

½ cup Poi Vinaigrette (page 8)
2 tablespoons Tomato-Chile Pepper Vinaigrette (page 58)
¼ cup Lomi Tomato Relish (page 21)
Pinch of black sesame seeds, for garnish 2 teaspoons Slivered Scallions (page 175), for garnish

    Preheat the oven to 500°.

    Lay a piece of aluminum foil measuring 9 inches by 11 inches on a flat work surface. Place 3 ti leaves or 1 banana leaf on top of the foil, and the duck on top of the leaf. Sprinkle with the salt and liquid smoke. Place the remaining 3 ti leaves or 1 banana leaf on top of the duck. Cover with additional foil and seal tightly. Place the package in a large roasting pan, fill with 2 inches of water, and cover the pan with foil to seal in the steam.

    Cook for 1½ to 2 hours, or until fork tender. When cool, remove the duck meat and shred using 2 forks. Refrigerate for up to 4 days (or freeze) until needed.

    To prepare the pancakes, place the taro in a steamer or vegetable basket set in a saucepan of lightly boiling water. Cover and steam for about 2 hours, or until completely tender.

    In a blender, combine the steamed taro, milk, cornstarch, eggs, and flour and blend to form a batter. Season with salt and pepper. In a medium nonstick pan over medium-low heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil. Ladle in about 2 tablespoons of the batter and tilt the pan to spread it evenly. Cook the pancake until brown on each side. Keep warm while preparing the remaining 3 pancakes.

    To serve, divide the pancakes among individual plates. Place the Kalua Duck in the middle of each pancake. Roll up the pancake. Drizzle both vinaigrettes around the plates. Top with the relish. Garnish with the sesame seeds and scallions.


The most common type of taro grown in Hawaii is lehua taro, which is the best type for making poi; its pink flesh turns purple when cooked. Traditionally, poi (meaning "to pound") was made from steamed taro root by pounding with specially sculpted rocks on custom-made hardwood boards. Water was added to give the paste the desired consistency. Poi is associated with Hawaii rather than any other Pacific societies because the earliest settlers preferred to eat taro in this semiliquid form rather than as a steamed vegetable as served elsewhere. Other Polynesian societies also make poi with breadfruit and bananas. As far as I know, Alan Wong's is the only restaurant in the state that makes poi every night. For more on taro, see page 21.

Kalua Turkey Quesadillas with Minted Mango Relish
and Hawaiian Chile Pepper Sour Cream

I enjoy Southwestern and Mexican cooking. This luau dish with a difference proves that these cuisines travel well. When I went to Santa Fe recently to participate in their annual Wine and Chile Fiesta, I discovered that merging cuisines works in any venue. Hawaii Regional Cuisine adapts very successfully to the styles of other regions, whether served in Honolulu, Santa Fe, or your home. Use Kalua Turkey left over from this recipe with Taro Pancakes (page 10) or to replace the meat in any of the Kalua recipes in this chapter. Alternatively, prepare using a 3-pound turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.

10 ti leaves, or 4 banana leaves
1 (6- to 8-pound) turkey
2½ tablespoons Hawaiian or kosher salt
2½ tablespoons all-natural liquid smoke flavoring


2 tablespoons butter
½ cup quartered shiitake mushrooms
½ cup Boursin cheese
8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

¼ cup Minted Mango Relish (page 133)
¼ cup Hawaiian Chile Pepper Sour Cream (page 183)

12 sprigs cilantro, for garnish

    Preheat the oven to 500°.

    Lay a piece of aluminum foil measuring 9 inches by 11 inches on a flat work surface. Place half of the ti or banana leaves on top of the foil, and the turkey on top of the leaves. Sprinkle with the salt and liquid smoke. Place the remaining leaves on top of and around the turkey. Cover with additional foil and seal tightly. Place the package in a large roasting pan, fill with 2 inches of water, and cover the pan with foil to seal in the steam.

    Cook for 1½ to 2 hours, or until fork tender. When cool, remove the turkey meat and shred using 2 forks, Refrigerate for up to 5 days (or freeze) until needed.

    To prepare the quesadillas, in a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Spread ½ tablespoon of the cheese on one side of each tortilla. Place about ¼ cup of the turkey evenly over the cheese on 1 of the tortillas. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cooked mushrooms over the turkey and top with another tortilla, cheese side down. Keep warm while preparing the remaining 3 quesadillas.

    In a medium nonstick pan over medium heat, warm each quesadilla for 2 minutes on each side, or until the tortillas are slightly brown on the outside and hot inside. Cut into eighths.

    To serve, divide the quesadilla pieces among individual plates. Top with the relish and sour cream. Garnish with the cilantro.


Steamed Clams with Kalua Pig,
Shiitake Mushrooms, and Spinach in "Da Bag"

Shortly before we opened Alan Wong's, I was visiting my mom and volunteered to help cook dinner. She asked me if I would steam some clams she had bought, and feeling creative, I decided to prepare them a little differently if I could. I looked around the refrigerator and pulled out some cooked Kalua Pig, spinach, and tomatoes. I added these to the clams and steamed everything together in a covered pan. The result was so successful, I decided to adapt it for the restaurant menu. Rather than cooking in a pan, I chose to cook the dish en papillote—the classic French method of baking food inside sealed parchment paper, which is how salmon was sometimes cooked at Lutèce. Instead of paper, I use foil bags. It's an impressive sight when this dish is carried to the table, with the puffed-up shiny envelope containing the sizzling ingredients. When the foil is pulled back and the steam and aroma escapes, everyone seems to want one!

1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup quartered shiitake mushrooms
2 cups firmly packed spinach
20 Manila clams, washed
2 cups Kalua Pig (page 4)
¼ cup finely diced tomatoes
1 cup Chicken Stock (page 177)

    Preheat the oven to 500°.

    Cut 4 strips of 18-inch-wide heavy-duty gauge aluminum foil 40 inches long (or use 2 overlapping strips of 12-inch-wide foil). Form foil bags, with one end left open, by folding each strip of foil in half lengthwise and seal the sides by folding the edges over together 3 or 4 times.

    In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

    In a saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the spinach for 30 seconds. Transfer the spinach to an ice bath to cool. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess moisture.

    Divide the clams, Kalua Pig, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes among 4 large ovenproof soup bowls (preferably 10 inches in diameter). Pour ¼ cup of the stock into each bowl. Slide the bowls inside the foil bags. Pour 1 cup of warm water inside the bottom of each bag before sealing the open end. Carefully place the bags on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes; steam created by the water inside the bag will puff up the foil and cook the ingredients inside. If possible, cook 2 bags at once and then repeat for the remaining 2 bags; reheat the bags cooked first just before serving. If the bags do not puff up, check for holes or leaks.

    To serve, place the bags on individual plates. Cut open at the table. Be careful as hot steam will rise from the bag. Diners should discard clams that did not open during cooking.


Another historic account of the luau was given by Captain F.W. Beechey, who visited Honolulu aboard H.M.S. Blossom in 1827. He wrote, "The King gave an entertainment, of which his guests were seated at a long table spread in the European style, and furnished with some very good wines. Among other good things we had Leuhow, a dish of such delicious quality that excursions are occasionally made to the plantations for the pleasure of dining upon it; and from this circumstance, a picnic and a Leuhow party have become nearly synonymous. The ingredients of this dish are the tops of the taro plant and mullet which have been fattened in the fishponds; these are wrapped in large leaves and baked in the ground, though sometimes fowls and pork are used."

The Traditional Hawaiian feasts

Before the word luau was introduced in the nineteenth century, traditional feasts were known as aha'aina. Here are some examples of particular feasts:

aha'aina ainakomo: Initiation feast

aha'aina ho'okipa: Feast of hospitality; a spontaneous party organized to welcome returning relatives or long-absent friends. Failure to honor those returning could be considered an insult.

aha'aina ho'ola'a: Feast of dedication or consecration; for example, a house, canoe, church, or fishing net.

aha'aina laulima: Feast of countless hands, celebrated communal efforts such as clearing land, building fish ponds, preparing taro fields, or bringing in the taro harvest.

aha'aina makaluhi: Feast for tired persons, to honor those who helped prepare and serve the feast for others.

aha'aina make: Funeral feast, to comfort the mourners.

'aina male: Wedding feast or reception.

aha'aina mawaewae: Feast of the firstborn, celebrated within 24 hours of birth. A ritual held as a blessing for the child and as a "path clearing" for future siblings.

aha'aina palala: Informal feast, for friends and relatives of a firstborn bearing gifts for the newborn. Today's baby luaus continue this tradition.

aha'aina piha makahiki: Feast of the fullness of the year, held for anniversaries, especially for a firstborn's first birthday.

aha'aina piwai: Feast held to break the monotony of rural life.

aha'aina puka: Graduation feast.

By now you must realize that luaus are organized at the slightest provocation—and with good food and a good time guaranteed, why not?


Meet the Author

JOHN HARRISSON has co-authored cookbooks with many of America’s leading chefs, including Mark Miller, Roy Yamaguchi, and Hubert Keller. He lives in Hawaii.
ALAN WONG is regarded as one of the best chefs in Hawaii. A winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Regional Chef for the Pacific Northwest, he trained with legendary chef André Soltner at New York’s Lutèc before opening his own restaurant in Honolulu.

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