Monday, October 1, 2012

Oven Lau Lau

This recipe reminds me of a scene from the movie “The Joy Luck Club”.  The aunties are playing mah jong and one of the younger niece’s states with confidence that she has played mah jong before with her Jewish friends in college.  The aunties glare at her and say with absolute conviction; “No-No”.  “That is Jewish mah jong, not Chinese mah jong.”  As if there is a difference…

There might not be any difference when it comes to mah jong but there is a clear difference between Hawaiian and Mainland Lau Lau’s. 


In Oregon FOIL takes the place of ti leaves, SALMON replaces the butter fish, luau (taro) leaves often get swapped out with SPINACH and the piece of pork fat gets traded for a CHICKEN WING.  You might be thinking… pork fat?  Yup, most of the time the fat completely melts away during the cooking, leaving behind no trace that it was even there.  Isn't ignorance bliss?  So as you can see, mainland lau laus are not quite the same, but they are still 'ONO" (delicious) and easy to make if you can find the right ingredients.  Once you have them wrapped, the work is done.  If you used a steamer you would have to watch the water level for 4 - 6 hours "humbug" (such a bother).  In the oven it needs no attention at all.

I use chicken wings in place of the pork fat because the butchers here trim most of the fat away (which is a good thing, but not for lau lau).  Lau laus need fat to keep everything moist and a chicken wing does a great job of basting the meat as it cooks, adding just enough fat to keep everything moist.

When I was a keiki (child) making lau lau was an all family event that also included hanai ohana (adopted family) to share in the work and be rewarded with onolicious fresh lau lau.  My job (I think I got this job because nobody wanted it) was to stem and clean two 50 pound bags of luau leaves.  I was taught to cut the stem on the leaf with a small paring knife, but not all the way through so I could cut away some of the thick part of the vein right next to the stem.  One of the elders also told me to remove the pointy tip of each leaf, because if I didn't, it would make my throat itchy.  Turns out to be just a myth, but after cleaning literally hundreds of pounds of luau leaves that way... I can’t stop myself from pinching off the tip of each leaf.

Not all the time, but on occasion I can find taro leaves at one of my favorite Asian grocers in Portland.  This was one of those times.  In my opinion there is no replacement for taro leaves.  They have a flavor that is not easily duplicated.  But if you can't find taro leaves you could use fresh spinach leaves.  Just make sure you use a lot because spinach will shrink down to almost nothing when it cooks.  So pack it in!
A few things to think about when making lau lau...

Ø  If you use fresh spinach it will cook in half the time (1 ½ hours instead of 3 hours).  But if you can find taro leaves it would be worth the extra cooking time!

Ø  In reference to the itchy throat myth; Taro leaves need to be cooked thoroughly and for a minimum of 40 minute or they will make your throat itch.  The itch comes from under-cooking, not the pointy tip, as I was lead to believe as a child.

Ø  Salt is the only seasoning that is commonly used when making lau lau so it is important to salt the meat and chicken well.  Make sure you use Kosher or Hawaiian Salt.  Don't use table salt it will make your lau laus too salty. Sometimes if I plan ahead, I will salt the pork and fish overnight in the fridge.  But it is not necessary.

Ø  I didn't use fish when I made these lau laus but if you do, cut one pound of salmon or black cod it into 6 pieces and season with about 2 tsp. kosher salt.  Then  place it under the chicken wing with the pork when wrapping.

Ø  If you want to add a touch of smokiness to your lau lau.  Add a couple drops of liquid smoke before wrapping.

Ø  I use the wing mostly for flavor rather than substance.  If you want a lau lau with more chicken meat, use thighs.

OVEN LAU LAU (makes 6)

3          pounds            fresh taro leaves

2          pounds            pork butt, cut into 6 large chunks

6          whole               chicken thighs or wings

1          pound              black cod or salmon, cut into 6 pieces (optional)

1 ½      Tbsp.               kosher salt


Wash taro leaves in a cold tap water bath and remove stems, big vein by the stem and pointy tip at the top of the leaf and discard.


Cut pork into 6 large chunks or 12 smaller pieces (the smaller pieces will cook faster) and season with 1Tbsp. kosher salt; mix well and divide into 6 portions; set aside.


Season chicken with ½ Tablespoon kosher salt; mix well and set aside.


Divide taro leaves into 6 stacks placing the larger leaves on the outside so its easier to wrap.  Place one portion of pork and one chicken wing in the middle of each pile of taro leaves.

 Fold into a tight bundle like you would a burrito and wrap each bundle with foil.
Place bundles into a large dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan covered with foil along with 1 cup of water.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 3 - 4 hours hours.





19 comments:

  1. There really is a difference between Chinese and American mah jong. The American one changes something every year and something about they get new cards each time.

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    1. Aloha, from what I understand American mah jong is more challenging than Chinese. I guess you could say the same thing about mainland lau laus.

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  2. Aloha no, Susan!

    Mahalo for sharing your oven laulau recipe. I'm going to try it tonight. I'm originally from O'ahu and now live in Puyallup, WA now. Thank God for Uwajimaya's, H Mart and some other Asian markets. No need for "care packages" from home. Ok....maybe some care packages (i.e. coco puffs, good kine mochi crunch). lol Anyway, I don't have a steamer and I knew there was a way to do the laulau in the oven. Glad I found your easy recipe. Again, mahalo nui....Vanessa

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    1. Aloha Vanessa, I am also from Oahu and love coco puffs - now I am ono for them :) Thanks for stopping by!!!

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    2. This misplaced Hawaiian from Kauai is in SPAIN!!! Get one ono coco puff recipe on Alohaworld.com. It's a winnah!

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    3. What a great find! Mahalo for sharing it with me. I checked it out and will put it on my list of things I have to make - here is the link

      http://alohaworld.com/ono/viewrecipe.php?id=1051312048

      you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to view the recipe.

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  3. Hi, do you have an outlet in Manila where we can eat the laulau? What restaurant or food outlet that offers laulau?

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    1. Aloha Manila, thanks for stopping by. I'm sorry to say that I am not familiar with Manila, so I don't have any recommendations. But, if you are ever in Hawaii on the island of Oahu - my favorite place to eat lau lau is at Young's Fish Market.

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  4. I only have a tabletop convection oven that fits a 9x13 pan. Can I still do this recipe or I really do need a roasting pan and the regular oven?

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    1. You can use your tabletop convection but it will probably take the whole 4 hours and possibly 5 to finish cooking, because I'm guessing that the heat will not hold as well as a regular oven.

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  5. I live in Washington and have been looking for taro leaves for forever! Anybody know where I can find them? I might be willing to drive to your store in Portland, if I have to!

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    1. Fortunately you live in Washington, because my favorite Asian store where I have found luau leaves successfully is in your back yard too... Uwajimaya. It would be worth a call to the produce department to check when and if they also get them there. Good luck!

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    2. !!! there is a store in east Bremerton that is an oriental market. they have a lot of selection!!
      I just bought taro leaves the other day :))

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    3. Fantastic! I see some onolicious lau lau's in your future :)

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  6. Aloha! I'm gonna try create steam in the oven. I've never done it this way before, but I can't find my mom's steamer, like the ones they use for steaming manapua or Filipino rice cake. My husband's steaming some in a wok outdoors. We'll cook each method for 3-4 hours and see how it turned out. Mahalo nui loa for your blog! ~ Ruthie

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  7. You can fresh taro leaves at Ranch 99 in Renton near Ikea.

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