Why not Kalua Pig for Labor Day?
As we were walking on the grounds of the Royal Kona hotel in Kailua-Kona on vacation last week, we came across two workers preparing kalua pig for the evening’s luau. It brought back memories for Steve, whose grandfather used to host luaus for family and friends in his backyard in Aina Haina (on the Island of Oahu). These were grand affairs with a party tent, professional musicians and many guests.
We watched as the workmen put heated stones in the cavity of the well-salted pig, then lay the pig, nestled in a chicken wire carrier, on a bamboo rack over hot rocks in the imu (the cooking pit). They covered the pig with banana leaves, then ti leaves, a wet tarpaulin to induce steam, then finally shoveled dirt over all, creating a nice, warm environment where the pig would slow-cook for hours, getting moist and juicy, smoky and utterly delicious. Tender to the bone, the kalua pig would be shredded before serving.
Traditional accompaniments are Hawaiian salt (coarse sea salt), poi and lomi salmon, a dish of shredded salted salmon, chopped onion and diced tomatoes massaged by hand (“lomi-lomi” meaning to massage) to combine.
With kalua pig on the mind, when we moved from our hotel in Kona to a rented vacation house in Hakalau, we made oven kalua pig to enjoy on our lanai, making our own luau. We served it with poi and since we didn’t have the salted salmon, I simply diced some local-grown tomatoes and Maui onion and seasoned it with salt. There’s something about the richness of the pig with the fresh, tartness of tomatoes and the bite of onion that is an irresistible combination, with our without the salmon.
This Labor Day, why not do a Hawaiian luau with Oven Kalua Pig? It’s very easy to prep; the only time-consuming part is the 4 ½ hours of roasting required to get the pork fork-tender. While poi is available at some Asian-Pacific grocery stores on the Mainland, it’s an acquired taste. So unless you know you like it, skip the poi and roast some sweet potatoes, which is still in keeping with Hawaiian traditions. For lomi salmon, you can dice lox, tomatoes and onion, massage together with clean hands, and salt to taste. Keep chilled until your kalua pig is ready. You could also make a tropical fruit salad with chunks of pineapple (we show you how to cut it up), papayas, mangos and bananas.
If you have leftover kalua pig, try these uses:
- Use it as a pizza topping as they do at Café Pesto in Hilo, with shredded kalua-style pork, sweet onions and Hawaiian pineapple.
- Or try in in a sandwich of kalua pig with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and barbecue sauce, a specialty of the Hilo Bay Café.
- Tuck it into a quesadilla, as seen on the menu at Bamboo in Hawi, with jalapeno jack cheese,then topped with tropical fruit salsa and sour cream.
- Simply stir-fry kalua pig with shredded cabbage, a typical Hawaiian home-style meal.
- Or use the kalua pig and cabbage wrapped in flour tortillas, as served at Tex Drive In in Honokaa, where it’s billed as a Local Wrap on the menu.
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Oven Kalua Pig
4- to 5-pound pork butt
2 ½ to 3 tablespoons Hawaiian salt or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
3 ti leaves, de-ribbed, optional (see note below)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lay ti leaves on a large cutting board, overlapping slightly. Place pork butt in the center of the ti leaves. Sprinkle the salt on the pork and rub all over so the entire pork butt is salted. Sprinkle liquid smoke and rub all over. Wrap the ends of the ti leaves over the pork butt to encase completely. Secure with toothpicks if needed. Tear off a length of heavy duty aluminum foil about 2 ½ times the size of your ti-leaf-wrapped pork. Place the pork on the foil and wrap, securely, folding ends of foil to seal so the package is watertight.
(If you aren’t using ti leaves, simple place the pork butt on the foil, sprinkle with salt and liquid smoke and wrap, sealing ends securely.}
Place foil-wrapped pork in a baking pan. Add water to reach 1 inch up the side of the pan and roast for 1 hour. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and roast 3 ½ hours longer.
Remove pork from the oven and carefully remove foil and ti leaves. Hot steam can burn, so open foil a little at a time to allow steam to escape. Using two forks, shred pork.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Ti leaves can be found at some florists or online. Wash thoroughly before using. Turn the leaf so the center rib is faced up. With a sharp paring knife, slice along the rib to remove, being careful not to cut through the leaf. This makes the leaf more supple and easier to wrap. You can also use banana leaves or skip the leaves and just wrap the pork in foil.
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