Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Hilo “Luau” on the Island of Hawaii

A luau is a Hawaiian feast or party usually featuring food such as poi, kalua pig, poke, lomi salmon, opihi and haupia, along with beer (and rum drinks); and often entertainment, like Hawaiian music and hula.

On July 4th we had some friends over to watch the fireworks over Hilo Bay and decided to turn it into a mini-luau.  For something special, my wife Devany and I wanted to prepare a Cuban style roasted pig, something similar to kalua pig which we have had at several Hawaiian celebrations here.

The word kalua literally means "to cook in an underground oven" and also describes the flavor of food cooked in this manner, i.e., “kalua pig.”  Kalua is an ancient Hawaiian cooking method that uses an imu, or underground oven.

At a traditional luau, a fire using kiawe wood (a species of mesquite tree) is built in a sand or dirt pit (the imu).  It is about six feet long, four feet wide and three feet deep. Rocks are placed in the imu to retain cooking heat after the flames have burned down.  Once the rocks have become extremely hot, the hole is lined with vegetation such as banana leaves.
Imu Ready for Firing
The meat to be cooked (in this case a suckling pig) is salted, rubbed with herbs, stuffed with more hot rocks, and covered with ti and banana leaves.  To maintain even heating and to retain the meat's natural moisture, it is covered first with wet burlap, then with a layer of sand or soil.  The meat is then left to cook in the pit for six to seven hours.

Since we did not particularly feel like digging up our yard, we did perhaps the next best thing which was to use a pig roasting box purchased from “La Caja China”.  The La Caja China is a box designed to accommodate the roasting of a marinated whole pig, butterfly cut.  The pig is placed inside the box, and charcoal is placed on top of the lid to roast the meat inside.  After about five hours the pig is well roasted and tastes amazing.

We were able to buy the big from a local abattoir in Hilo not far from our house.  It probably weighed about 60 pounds (80 pounds live weight) and barely fit in the La Caja China.

Devany had marinated the pig in a solution of sour orange and garlic with spices for 24 hours before the day of its cooking.  She also injected the pig with more of the marinade just before the coals were started.  Her recipe for the (marinade) is as follows:

2 gallons of orange juice
1 quart of lime juice
1 cup of dried chopped oregano
¼ cup garlic salt
3 cups of chopped garlic
½ cup of cracked black pepper

At the "Luau"
The results were well enjoyed by all, and while not quite a real luau, it certainly was a great feast.  I’ll discuss some of the other gastric elements to a traditional luau in subsequent postings.