Today, I am interrupting your food blog feed full of American Thanksgiving recipes and fall spices and bringing you something tropical. Still comfort food, still great for a crowd (and less money and effort than a turkey- just saying…), but divergent from what you’re probably used to seeing these days.
I have spent the last two weeks in Hawaii– tough life, I know. Aside from filling myself with as much poke and Maui ribs (recipe here!) as I possibly can, one of my favourite things to make when I visit is a traditional Kalua Pig.
No, this doesn’t involve Kahlúa- no coffee liqueur pork here.
Traditionally made in an ‘imu,’ a pit oven dug underground, this pork is seasoned very simply but cooked slowly. It absorbs the flavours of the red Hawaiian Alaea salt, the smoky coals over which it lies, the taro leaves it is often wrapped in, and the ti leaves used to keep it meltingly moist and tender. The best kind of barbecue- simple, slow, smoky, tender.
Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of digging an oven in the sand mid-November soooo… we make do with what we have. This version is made in a regular ol’ oven but comes out tasting just right thanks to a healthy dash of liquid smoke- mesquite liquid smoke to be precise.
Taro leaves are easy to find in Hawaii (also sold as ‘Luau Leaves’) but can be tricky to find on the mainland. If you can’t find them, you can either skip the greens in this recipe altogether or substitute the leaves with collard greens, swiss chard, or even kale. I find collard greens to be the closest substitution since they cook up tender without much bitterness, and take on the salty, smoky, fatty flavours of the pork.
Finally, we wrap the whole thing in some ti leaves or banana leaves. These will be a little easier to find on the mainland, especially at specialty Asian grocery stores in the frozen foods section. These last leaves do add a bit to the flavour and authenticity of the dish but are largely used to keep the pork moist- since we’re cooking it in an oven covered with aluminium foil, this is less of an issue. Once again, if you can’t find them, it’s not the end of the world.
Sooo… Pork. Salt. Smoke.
It’s hard to believe something so simple can be so delicious and complex in it’s flavours, but it is.
Serve the meltingly tender pork over rice or stuff it into some Hawaiian sweet rolls.
Put it on a pizza with some pineapple. Add it to potatoes for a deadly delicious breakfast hash. Crack an egg over top and call it breakfast. Shred the pork over salad with a punchy vinaigrette. Pack the leftovers for lunches.
However you serve it, it’s a good bit of comfort food, whether you’re lounging on a sunny beach or bundled up on a gloomy day.
|Kalua Pig - Hawaiian Pulled Pork|| |
- 2.75 kg boneless pork butt
- 2 Tbsp Hawaiian alaea salt or Himalayan pink salt
- 2 Tbsp mesquite liquid smoke
- 500 g fresh taro leaves (or collard greens)*
- 500 g fresh or frozen banana or ti leaves**
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Using a sharp knife, poke your pork butt several times, making incisions roughly 2 inches deep. Spread salt and liquid smoke over the pork. Wrap pork in taro or collard greens leaves followed by the ti or banana leaves, securing the final 'package' with untreated kitchen twine and place in a large baking dish. Add one cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish and cover the entire thing with aluminium foil. Bake for 6 hours.
- Remove aluminium foil and cut twine. Remove ti/banana leaves. Scoop up the softened taro/collard greens and place in a separate dish for serving. Using two forks, pull the pork into tender threads.
- Serve the pork and greens alongside some jasmine rice or stuffed into some Hawaiian sweet rolls.
** Banana leaves and ti leaves will likely live in the frozen foods section of your grocery store as well. If you can't find them, skip this step entirely- since we're covering our pork with aluminium foil to keep the moisture in, as opposed to burying it underground in a traditional beach oven 'imu.'