Laulau (Pork Wrapped in Taro Leaves)

Laulau (Pork Wrapped in Taro Leaves)
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Your rating: None Average: 3.6 (8 votes)
Author: moana
Date: 10-19-10
Servings: 12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
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There are few dishes at a pā'ina that get people as excited as a big platter of laulau, those savory bundles of pork and fish nestled in taro leaves. We do love our laulau. Part of the excitement comes from a mistaken impression that preparing laulau is a complicated process, and must therefore be saved only for special occasions. That couldn't be further from the truth!. While you won't be assembling laulau every night of the week, they're easy enough that you can make them for more than just birthdays and graduations. The preparation of the inside ingredients is dead simple, and if you can wrap a gift, you can bundle a laulau for steaming.

No good records exist documenting the culinary origins of laulau, but the consensus is that it pre-dates Western contact. Early laulau contained pork and local fish rubbed with salt, wrapped in young taro leaves called lu`au. When the whaling industry arrived in force, they brought salted butterfish with them and it quickly became the "traditional" fish to use in laulau. The meat, fish and lu`au bundles were carefully wrapped in ti leaves then baked in an imu. Contemporary laulau remains essentially unchanged. If you order a Hawaiian plate lunch place, the laulau still contains pork, butterfish and lu`au. Common variations on the theme use chicken in place of pork, omit the butterfish, or add onions and other vegetables. For convenience, most laulau today are steamed on the stovetop rather than in an imu.

The recipe below makes 12 laulau. You can make far fewer of course, but once you setup an assembly line, the difference between making four and twelve is negligible. Leftover laulau (ha! as if...) can be frozen in their entirety and reheated on another day. Finally, laulau is a fantastic communal cooking event. Invite a friend or two over to help assemble!

Recipe courtesy of moana.net. Original recipe posted here.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • about 50 lu`au leaves
  • 24 to 30 ti leaves
  • 3 lbs. pork shoulder or butt. Don't trim any fat!
  • 1.5 lbs. salted butterfish
  • 2 T Hawaiian salt
  • Notes on the ingredients:
  • * Fresh spinach may be substituted for lu`au leaves, but reduce the cooking time to 90 minutes if you do. The flavor of spinach is similar enough, but not identical to lu`au.
  • * Banana leaves or even corn husks may be substituted for ti leaves.
  • * Salted (not smoked) salmon or cod may be used in place of salted butterfish. If all else fails, use fresh butterfish, salmon or cod, but add 1/3 t. extra Hawaiian salt per laulau.
  • * Kosher salt may be used in place of Hawaiian salt
  • * On the one hand, please feel free to substitute as needed. On the other hand, it is well worth a little extra effort to stick as close to the traditional preparation as is feasible. If you substitute everything, is it still laulau?

Recipe Steps:

  • First, start with all your prep work. Wash the ti and lu`au leaves. Prepare your ti leaves, then set them aside. Remove the center stem and fibrous veins from each lu`au leaf. If you have tender, young lu`au, you may be fine leaving the veins intact. Optionally, dice and reserve the lu`au stems to use in the laulau.
  • Cut the pork into 12 pieces and rub with salt. Cut the fish into 12 pieces. Start heating a large steamer with water in the bottom. At this point, your prep work is done. Easy so far, eh?
  • Stack four to five lu`au leaves on a flat surface, with leaf tips pointing in different directions. Place a piece of pork in the center of the leaf stack, and then a slice of fish on top. If you've decided to use the reserved lu`au stems, add a tablespoon of diced stems. Fold the lu`au leaf to enclose the bundle, much like you would enclose a burrito or wrap.
  • You now need to choose a wrapping method, package style or Ho`okupu style. Wrap each laulau bundle in the style of your choosing, then place them in the steamer, stacking if necessary. Make sure to leave spaces between the laulau so that the steam can reach everywhere! Steam for four hours.
  • I like to present the laulau still wrapped on a large platter and allow the guests to open their own bundles, discarding the outer ti leaves and eating everything else. It's messier at the table to do it this way, but when that first wave of lu`au smell rises from a newly opened laulau, the excitement on people's faces is completely worth it.

Serving Size: 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

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