Only a decade or so ago, most major restaurants in Hawaii served what chefs thought the tourists would want to eat. Not wanting to offend the sensibilities of the islands’ major source of income, typical “mainland” fare was the order of the day. The thought that the average New York, Iowa or San Francisco bumpkin would want to nibble on local chow was simply not considered.
Luckily for everyone, a few intrepid kitchen maestros decided enough was enough. It was time to share the amazing local produce, seafood, and spices with the inbound masses. Hawaii is fortunate to have the influences of several major world cuisines to draw from. Recipes, techniques, and nuances from Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish and Portuguese cuisines add their flavor to the Polynesian and uniquely Hawaiian ingredients and classic dishes.
Hundreds of different edible fish, many available nowhere else in the world, now show up on dining tables throughout the islands. Some are even finding their way to the restaurant kitchens of major cities throughout the rest of the country. Fruits, vegetables and seaweeds of varieties that some cooks only read about are readily available for serving, garnishing and saucing of plates.
Names like Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong, Sam Choy, and Jean-Marie Josselin are popping up on food networks next to the likes of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. In fact, while he may not be the pinnacle chef of Hawaiian food, Roy Yamaguchi is certainly its pinnacle ambassador, with more than a dozen outposts of his famed restaurant, Roy’s, around the world.
Internet sites devoted to Hawaiian cuisines are easily accessible for any home cook’s browsing pleasure and a quick search of the web turned up a half-dozen books on Hawaiian cuisine published in the last year.
Like much of American regional cooking, modern Hawaiian is a synthesis of the cuisines that come from its immigrant populace. James Michener, the author of the historical novel Hawaii, notes in the introduction to a Hawaiian cookbook that it is near impossible to attend a Hawaiian dinner and not have dishes from at least three different cultures.
Though by no means definitive, it would probably be fairly safe to say that modern Hawaiian cooking tends to be on the sweet side. It is not at all unusual to have sauces that are some form of sweet and sour, or based on sweetened coconut milk, or an Asian style soy, vinegar and sugar marinade. Fruit is often used in dishes. Unfamiliar (at least to us mainland types) produce, like purple Molokai sweet potatoes and poha berries sit side by side with fish like kumu, moano, moi, and wahoo.
With no claim to authenticity on my part, and full license on yours to play with your food, I offer a recipe, in tribute at least, to the new Hawaiian chefs. Influenced, of course, by my own cooking background…
Grilled Shutome with Molokai Hash
4 6-ounce shutome (Pacific swordfish) steaks
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
salt & white pepper
1/4 cups raw macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
4 molokai (purple sweet potatoes), peeled and cut in 1/4″ dice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced thinly
1 fresh medium-hot pepper, sliced in thin rings
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons corn or canola oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper the swordfish steaks (you can substitute any good steak fish, like tuna or shark), and coat both sides with hoisin sauce. Marinate for two hours.
Heat the oils together over medium heat and add garlic, green onions, pepper rings, and ginger and cook, stirring, until they start to turn golden brown. Add the macadamias and sweet potato dice (you can substitute regular sweet potatoes), turn the heat down low and cook, stirring regularly, until the potatoes are cooked through. Add the soy sauce and sugar and mix thoroughly. Remove from heat.
Grill the swordfish steaks on both sides until cooked through – preferably over an open grill. Kiawe wood (a Hawaiian wood) would be ideal, mesquite is a good substitute. A stove-top grill is the way most of us city-dwellers have to go. Serve with the hash.
Hawaii has two active wineries. Given the range of climates over the various islands and altitudes, grape growing is not all that difficult. Nonetheless, what is more important to the wine industry in Hawaii is an emphasis on local fruit wines. For those of us who’ve bounced around the country and sampled various fruit wines, we know these can range from insipid to quite good, but can almost always be counted on to be interesting. World-class is not the aim here – but fun drinking is.
In the wine business, Tedeschi Vineyards, located on Maui, is perhaps the more famed of the two. Often joked about amongst wine-folk, the winery’s specialty – Maui Blanc – is legendary as THE wine made from fresh pineapple juice. In business since 1974, Tedeschi produces a range of eight different wines, from grapes to passion fruit to pineapple. A visit to the winery, in upcountry Maui, is a must for the adventurous wine lover. In fact, 180,000 visitors make the trek annually.
Volcano Winery, on the “Big Island”, is nestled between two active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Claiming distinction as America’s southernmost winery, they produce nearly a dozen different wines. Producing wine since 1986, Volcano, too, is worth the trip. Volcano’s claim to fame are their Symphony wines and their honey wines. The former are made from the Symphony grape – a hybrid between Grenache gris and Muscat of Alexandria. The latter are fermented entirely from local honey – unlike heavy, cloying European honey beverages like mead, these are light, fresh and delicately sweet.
Volcano Winery was able to ship some samples for my review. Symphony Dry is made from the hybrid grape Symphony and was a medium bodied, very aromatic wine and dry wine that reminded me of canned apricots and lychees. It worked well with the swordfish, though probably would be a better match with a less spicy sauce. Passion Chablis is a blend of an unidentified white grape and passion fruit wines, and tasted of, well, passion fruit. Being slightly off-dry it worked beautifully with the spicy sauce on the swordfish. With dessert, preferably something with banana or coconut, the Macadamia Nut Honey Wine was delightfully light, refreshing and tasting of honey and macadamia flowers.
Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.