One of my college roommates was Hawaiian. I mean real Hawaiian. I inherited his Kamehameha Schools T-shirt collection when he, er, outgrew them (you have to be at least one quarter native Hawaiian to go there). When he arrived on campus, he arrived with three enormous steamer trunks. One trunk contained his clothes. One trunk was full of orchids for all his girl friends. The third trunk was full of fresh pineapples for all his guy friends. Somewhere in all that he had room to pack some of his mom’s laulau. Man, were they good.
This recipe for laulau is adapted from A Taste of Aloha, the Junior League of Honolulu cookbook. Some of the ingredients are tricky to find. You can substitute salt cod for the salted butterfish or salmon. I’ve been able to find taro leaves in Asian grocery stores. Ti leaves are sometimes available, also. Other large edible leaves for wrapping can be substituted as well. They won’t be as good as my friend’s mom’s but you can dream.
1½ lb. salted butterfish or salted salmon, cut into 1 inch cubes
2½ lb. beef brisket or bottom round, cut into 1 inch cubes
5 lb. pork butt, cut into 1½ inch cubes
2 lb. pork belly (optional)
200 taro leaves (10 per laulau) washed and tough ribs removed
60 ti leaves (3 per laulau) washed and stems removed
- Soak the salt fish for at least ½ hour before cutting, changing the water twice.
- For each laulau place 10 taro leaves in a stack, in the middle of each place a piece of fish, beef, pork, and (optional) pork belly. Fold the leaves to the middle to make a neatly wrapped bundle.
- Place 2 ti leaves across each other to make an “X”.
- Place taro bundle on the “X” with the folded side down.
- Bring the ends of one ti leaf together, closing it tightly over the bundle with the ends standing up.
- Bring the ends of a second ti leaf together in the same way.
- Place the bundle on a third ti leaf and close in the same manner to ensure total enclosure of the bundle (stems and ends should all be standing up).
- Holding the bundle tightly with one hand, split the stem of the third ti leaf into two lengths with your other hand.
- Wind the stem ties around the stem ends several times, securing tightly and finishing with a knot.
- Cut the remaining stems and ends 3 to 4 inches above the knot for a neat package.
- Steam the laulau for a minimum of 4 hours.
I seem to remember that sometimes my friend’s mom would slip a little onion into the laulau. Hawaiian ancestry is extremely helpful in preparing this dish. If that can’t be arranged, practice, practice, practice.