Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No measure “Pig in pit”?

 It was my sister’s 12 annual International potluck last weekend. Everyone was support to bring a dish that represents his/her culture or heritage to the gathering. She wanted me to make kalua pork. If you have been to Hawaii and one of the luaus on the Islands, you would have seen the ceremony to raise a whole pig from the imu (Hawaiian for underground oven). It was indeed quite impressive. It is a must have for Hawaiians/Islanders get-to-gethers!

Kalua pig literally means “pig in a pit”. Lua means pit. A few years ago, I was replanting my garden and cleared out a hole in my yard. It was also the first year that I decided to have a luau at my house. I had the idea of making kalua pork the old fashion way – in the imu! My big Samoan braddah (brother) tried very hard to convince me I should get a whole pig. He even offered to cook it for me. Hmm nope! I would work with meat, but I knew I would not be able to handle the whole thing. I used a few pork butts instead. I was not a big fan of pork, but it was wonderful, moist, a little smoky and lots of flavor!

I did not have a luau at my home for a couple of years now, but I still have the imu. I know we will make some real kalua pig again someday. Meanwhile I had to make enough kalua pork for 60 people. I didn’t cook it in an imu. I keep this very simple, cooking inside the house.

Most people make their kalau pork in the regular oven in the house. I use a crock-pot instead. I found the crock-pot simulate an imu closer than the oven. When you cook the meat in an imu, you actually slow cook the meat partly by steaming, not really baking it. I also wrap the meat with banana leaves before I put it in the crock-pot to give that “green taste”. A taste of liquid smoke was added to give impression of smoke from the burned wood in the pit. If you don’t like liquid smoke, this is optional and will not affect the meat at all.

There is no measurement with this recipe. It is a rustic preparation and it is pretty fool proof too. By the way, I love leftover kalua pork stirred fried with cabbage and seasoned with a little shoyu. I wanted the cabbage cooked in kalua pork juice more than the meat!  I was so disappointed that all the meat was gone at no time at the party! I may have to make some more if I get more cabbage on my CSA this week.

Kalua Pork in a Crock-pot
1 3-4 lb pork butt, you can use as small or as big a piece of meat that your slow cooker would fit. You don't need to get it boneless either. I had to make 14 lbs (2 pork butt) for the party and I used an 11 qt slow cooker
Hawaiian Alaea red salt
A package of frozen banana leaves. defrosted, washed and dry with paper towel
1 splash (about 1 tbsp) liquid smoke - option
Prepare our in house imu – the crock-pot.
Line the crock-pot by crisscrossing 2 large pieces of banana leaves, make sure there is a little “over hangs” and the pot is completed lined. Keep 1 extra piece, put aside.
I usually trim most of the fat off the meat, but for this recipe, I am keeping it to add flavor. If there is a lot of fat, you may want to trim some of it off.
In a large bowl, pour in a handful of Alaea salt
Add a splash of liquid smoke to taste to the salt.  If you don’t like liquid smoke, this is optional. Stir the salt and the liquid together.
Add the pork and rub the salt generously on the meat.
Put the in meat in the lined crock pot
Top with the piece of reserved banana leaf. Tuck in the “overhang”.
Cover and cook the meat in low heat for about 6-8 hrs. (I usually cook this overnight)
When ready, remove the top leaf 
Remove the meat to a large bowl, shred the meat with a fork.
There will be some liquid since the salt would draw the moisture out of the meat. In an imu in the ground, the liquid would have drained into the soil. Save ¼ cup of the liquid, drain and discard the rest.
If you are serving a buffet/ potluck, return the meat to the crock-pot lined with banana leaves to keep warm. I leave the banana leaf to give the dish a rustic, traditional look. Dilute the reserved liquid with ¼ cup of hot water, and pour over the meat to help keep it moist.
Or you can discard the reserved liquid and plate the shredded meat in a large bowl and serve.

Kalua pig traditionally is served with poi. Poi is a bit of an acquired taste. In modern days in Hawaii, you will usually find the meat enjoyed with rice.

If I make it for my mainland friends or my office, I always have small buns on the side; I found many enjoy the meat as a small slider sandwich! The meat freezes very well too!


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