I started off considering fried chicken in honor of Independence Day. Fried chicken is certainly an American favorite and this meant deep-fried. Baking chicken coated with mayonnaise and corn flakes does not count. My only deep-frying experience was years ago (crispy won ton).
My search for fried chicken recipes turned up a lot of similar techniques and ingredients. I wanted something a little different. I developed a liking for mochiko chicken on recent business trips to Hawaii. One of my clients indulged me and ordered a mochiko chicken plate lunch for me when we worked through lunch on Wednesdays. Mochiko chicken it was.
A Hawaiian plate lunch is unique to the 50th State. It’s not really take-out, because you can eat it in a restaurant. It’s not just lunch; you can order a plate lunch for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a mini version for an afternoon or midnight snack.
Wikipedia attributes the plate lunch to Hawaii and notes it is a “quintessential part” of the islands’ cuisine. Given the ethnic diversity of Hawaii, the main entrée can be Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese or whatever, a combination of these, or a unique fusion dish created by a renowned chef or somebody’s aunt.
The standard plate lunch has two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, one or two main entrées, and whatever else the proprietor decides to throw in. My favorite is to smother everything in gravy.
I decided to put together a plate lunch that featured mochiko chicken with two scoops rice and one scoop of macaroni salad, with haupia thrown in for dessert. Except for the rice, these would all be new to my culinary accomplishments.
Haupia is a traditional coconut-milk based pudding served cold, and a favorite dessert at luaus and parties. Its light texture and tropical sweetness would complement the rest of my plate lunch. I prepared it well in advance of the meal time. Haupia recipes all call for coconut milk, cornstarch, sugar and water. I selected a recipe from the Polynesian Cultural Center (polynesia.com/recipes/haupia.html) because it seemed so . . . island-y.
I expected this would be the easiest of the three new dishes and was surprised by what is probably obvious to most. I learned that 6 ounces of cornstarch is about weight, not volume, so my measuring cup was of no help. The weight of dry ingredients varies and It took several Internet searches before I found that 3 grams of cornstarch is equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon (wiki.answers.com). After converting grams to ounces with the help of an Excel spreadsheet and a calculator, I figured out that I needed 9 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Another adjustment resulted from the volume of coconut milk. All of the coconut milk brands at Tom Thumb and Central Market were 13.5 ounces, rather than the recipe’s 16-ounce cans (I don’t think these exist). I reduced all other ingredients by an eighth.
I was relieved that the actual cooking of haupia was as easy as I expected. I brought the coconut milk, sugar and a cup of water to a boil, stirred it a bit, then slowly stirred in cornstarch that was mixed with two cups of water. After it thickened, I let it cool to room temperature, poured it into a baking pan and refrigerated the concoction for a couple of hours.
One down, two more to go.
When I was growing up, rice was the only starch in our meals. Potatoes were only part of stew dishes. My father once asked to substitute rice in his pasta dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. When I got married, I expanded the starch menu to include pasta though it wasn’t my first choice. When my son wanted macaroni and cheese, he got Chef Boyardee. Recently he brought me a Saveur magazine with a fancy macaroni and three-cheese recipe. Hope springs eternal.
I bought my first box of macaroni last week. I found a great recipe from Cook’s Country Magazine (cookscountry.com), which is affiliated with America’s Test Kitchen, my source for last week’s recipe. This recipe understood the slightly tangy, slightly sweet taste of macaroni salad on a Hawaiian plate lunch. It noted that overcooking the macaroni was key to absorption of the dressing, and that the dressing had to be thin enough to soak in.
The dressing included 1.5 cups milk, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, salt and pepper. It seemed too thin, then I realized I used low-fat milk. America’s Test Kitchen specifically warned that low-fat milk would make the dressing too thin. I added about .5 cup of mayo, but the consistency still seemed a little thin.
I prefer al dente pasta, so cooking the small elbow macaroni for 15 minutes was major anomaly in my book. I must have tasted a quarter cup of macaroni during the cooking process to make sure I wasn’t ending up with mush. Truly, this was a test in my faith in America’s Test Kitchen!
After the designated time, I drained the pound of macaroni and tossed in 0.5 cup of apple cider vinegar. I let it sit a bit to cool, then stirred in the dressing. I added a little more mayo, shredded carrots and substituted celery seeds for fresh celery. The dressing was fine and it tasted how I remembered. The recipe from America’s Test Kitches was right on the mark. I stuck the mac salad in the fridge to cool.
Two down, one to go.
Mochiko is rice flour that comes in a box that seemed to be the original 1940s packaging. It seemed so exotic that last August I brought a box back to Texas from a business trip to Hawaii. I had no idea of what I would do with it.
I found a simple yet reliable recipe for mochiko chicken at alohaworld.com. The batter included mochiko flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, eggs, Aloha shoyu, six garlic cloves (minced) and about a tablespoon of minced ginger.
The type of shoyu, or soy sauce, is important. Kikkoman shoyu is available in Texas supermarkets, but the recipe called for Aloha Shoyu which is lighter and smoother than Kikkoman and a local staple in Hawaii. I found Aloha at HMart, an Asian market in Carrollton.
The batter seemed a little thin but I let it stand. For extra taste, I added a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. I marinated about 5 pounds of boneless chicken thighs in the batter overnight, and turned it several times the next day. The batter seemed to have thickened.
I don’t have a deep fryer, but a wok did the job perfectly. Its shape evenly retained the vegetable oil at a high temperature and was wide enough to allow efficient frying of several pieces at one time. Richard volunteered to do most of the frying, and he did a great job! We used an entire bottle of oil!
DINNER – PLATE LUNCH STYLE
In keeping with the tradition of a plate lunch, we needed paper plates or at least foam containers. Red plastic plates that we keep for parties had to suffice.
I sprinkled furukake (Japanese dried seaweed mixture) on the two scoops of rice and threw in some kim chee (Korean garlic-pepper pickled vegetables) to spice it all up. Of course, chopsticks are standard issue for a plate lunch.
A Hawaiian plate lunch for our Texas dinner to celebrate Independence Day!
As they say in Hawaii, this was ONO (delicious)!