For those who aren’t familiar with this culinary delight, lau lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is made by wrapping meat and (sometimes) veggies in taro leaves (also called luau). The bundle is then wrapped in tea leaves and tied with a string (or with the leaves themselves – now that takes talent!) and either baked in an imu (underground oven) or - more commonly but less coolly – steamed on the stove top. The result is a distinctly Hawaiian juxtaposition of flavors and textures that makes the taste buds sing!
Lau lau are very unique to their creators, varying greatly in appearance and taste. All of the families who sell lau lau on the side of the road in Hilo do a superb job – and how lucky I am to live in a place where this kind of commerce is still common! Malama Market makes a yummy, huge, relatively low in fat (if rather pricey) version that I quite enjoy. The folks by the Keaau bypass on HI 130 - look for the “HOT ONE LAU LAU” sign – make my very favorite of all!
Sometimes I strike out and fail to meet my weekly lau lau quota. To combat this distressing situation - and because I’m not skilled enough to make them the real way -I’ve developed a recipe for crock pot lau lau that is yummy and super easy. I’ve combined several recipes found online and adjusted to my personal tastes. It’s certainly not art like real lau lau often are, but it’ll do in a pinch, and it’s been a big hit with the people I’ve made it for.
Crock Pot Lau Lau Recipe
1 2lb bag of Taro (Luau) Leaves
1 Pork Shoulder or Butt
¾ tbsp Red Hawaiian Sea Salt
2 Medium ‘Uala (Purple Sweet Potato)
1 tbsp Liquid Smoke
1lb Salted Butter Fish
- Rinse off the leaves and cut out the joint of the fibrous vein. Tear huge leaves in half or into manageable-sized pieces.
- Cut the pork into 2-inch chunks, trimming fat as you go. (note: Some lau lau have fat added for flavor, but I try to avoid too much extra fat. Trimming about 80% seems to be a good practice, leaving flavor while avoiding heart attack).
- Place the pork in a bowl, sprinkle with sea salt and add liquid smoke. Mush it all around with your hands until well mixed and rubbed in.
- Rinse the butterfish, remove the skin and cut meat into small chunks. Remove the bones as you go (the tiny little bones will usually disintegrate during cooking, but try remove all of the bigger ones).
- Peel the ‘uala, slice it about ½ inch thick and quarter the slices.
- Spray your crock-pot or slow cooker with non-stick spray. Make a bed of leaves in the bottom of the crock-pot, and then build up the sides until you have a nest. The nest should be deepest on the bottom. Set aside enough to make a 2-leaf layer on top. Don’t worry if you can’t fit all the leaves right now.**
- Place the pork chunks into the nest of leaves. Add the butterfish and ‘uala chunks on top. Cover with your remaining leaves, tucking the sides down to form a giant lau lau!
- Cook on low for at least 7 hours.
** If you have extra leaves, you can slip them in after a few hours. Once liquid accumulates and the leaves start to break down, fold up some of the extra leaves, lift one end of the lau lau and shove underneath. The leaves are my favorite part, so the more the better!!
At the end of the day, bust out your rice cooker and serve the crock-pot lau lau on or beside a bed of rice. The lau lau will be nice and juicy, and the rice is great with a spoonful or two of the broth.
The only draw back to this recipe – if you work at home like I do - is smelling it all day long! (Jumps up from keyboard, knocks over chair, and runs to sample crock pot lau lau currently bubbling away in kitchen).