Got taro leaves? Got Ti Leaves? Then you’re ready for lau lau, the traditional Hawaiian dish consisting of pork, chicken and fish steamed within layers of taro leaves and wrapped in ti leaves. In the traditional luau, or Hawaiian feast, lau lau is usually cooked — much like the kalua pig — in an underground oven called the imu. Home-cooked versions of lau lau are prepared in stove tops or electric steamers. When I was a resident of Hawaii, I could count the number of times I had lau lau with my 5 fingers, but when I moved to the Mainland, no visit to Hawaii (which is at least once a year) is ever complete without a hike or a bike trip to Ono’s on Kapahulu Avenue in Waikiki, for an order of the sumptuous lau lau plate. If you live in a city that has Hawaiian barbecue restaurants, chances are lau lau is on their menu and comes with the usual complement of rice and macaroni salad.
I had always wanted to prepare a home-cooked version of lau lau, but it has been a challenge to procure both fresh taro leaves and the ti leaves. Luckily, dried taro leaves are available at Asian supermarkets while flower shops would occasionally have ti leaves on hand to enhance their floral bouquets and arrangements. Using dried taro leaves requires a slight modification in the cooking process, but the end result is as mouth-watering as lau lau cooked with fresh taro. USEFUL TIP: If ti leaves are not available, you can use parchment paper or aluminum foil to wrap and steam your lau lau.
1/2 lb pork butt, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lb boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1/2 lb salmon fillet, cubed
1 lb dried taro leaves
8 ti leaves
1 tbsp sea salt
Season pork, chicken and salmon with sea salt. Divide the pork, chicken and salmon pieces in 4 equal portions. Soak the taro leaves in cold water for 10 minutes then pat them dry with a paper towel. Lay 2 ti leaves on the kitchen counter, in the form of an “x.” Place several layers of the dried taro leaves in the middle of the ti leaves. Place a portion each of the meat and fish filling on top of the layer of taro and add several more layers on top. Fold the ti leaves to wrap the meat and taro mixture and secure with a piece of string. Place the wrapped lau lau in a steamer. Cover and turn on steamer. (If an electric steamer is not available, place about 2 cups of water in a wok and bring to a boil. Set an aluminum or bamboo steamer basket on the wok, just above the water level). Steam for about 3 hours. When ready to serve, unwrap the lau lau and discard the ti leaves. Serve with steamed rice and macaroni salad.