Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: Dining on Maui time | Food Columnists

My wife and I were more than thrilled that we were able to vacation on Maui in January.

“Oh no,” I can hear just about every reader scream, “not another list of all the fun that someone else had on a warm island while I was stuck here freezing.”

Nope, that’s what a travel writer does for a living, not me. I am in the food department so I try to write about recipes that will magically transport you to wonderful places so you don’t have to pay for a plane ticket.

I’ve pulled a couple of recipes from cookbooks written by people who grew up on Hawai’i, plus an easy fish recipe: All that’s missing is the Aloha shirt to take you back to the islands. (Every shirt that a Hawaiian wears is a Hawaiian shirt, so don’t make that mistake.)  I’ve also found that the soundtrack for “The Descendants” movie (also worth watching) features some great Hawaiian music to play while you cook. Mahalo!

Ahi Shoyu Poke

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Adapted from “Aloha Kitchen Cookbook” by Alana Kysar

Alana Kysar was born in Hawaiʻi and her book focuses on recipes she remembers from childhood. In 2015, she started her blog Fix Feast Flair, where she shares recipes inspired by her Japanese-American heritage, travels, and life in Hawaiʻi, which led to her producing this book.

Poke seems to be offered in every deli, diner and high-end restaurant on the island but you have to start with fresh, sushi-grade tuna. Shoyu is the name you often see in Hawai’i for Japanese-style soy sauce, which can be light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi).

1 lb fresh sashimi-grade ahi steak chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1½ tablespoons soy sauce plus more to taste

¾ teaspoon Hawaiian salt (‘alaea) plus more to taste (I’ve bought this at the local CostPlus but can be found at other stories and the almighty Internet)

¼ cup thinly sliced Maui or yellow onion (It helps to soak the onions in acidulated water-use a half lemon or lime to remove some of the bitter sulfur compounds)

½ cup chopped green onions, green parts only

⅛ teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red chili powder)

1 tablespoon finely chopped toasted macadamia nuts

2 cups steamed rice for serving

In a bowl, combine the cubed ahi, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, onion, green onions, gochugaru, and toasted macadamia nuts and gently toss with your hands or a spoon. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Serve over rice and enjoy immediately, although Chef Simeon, featured in the next recipe, writes that you don’t have to eat poke with starch. Eaten alone makes it a pupu (appetizer) while adding rice turns it into a light meal. He also serves it with noodles or fresh greens.

Chicken Bar-B-Que

Adapted from “Cook Real Hawai’i” by Sheldon Simeon with Garrett Snyder

Note that you will have to marinate the chicken for a total of 3 to 4 hours before it hits the grill.

You may have heard of Chef Simeon, who was not once but twice a finalist on Bravo’s hit TV show, “Top Chef.” (Sorry, I don’t watch the food gladiator shows.) His book is not the food you find in the resorts (but he did cook at one years ago) but the food he grew up with on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

He went on to culinary training on Oahu and then trained in Maui where he now runs his own highly regarded but low key restaurant Tin Roof, not on the tourist-centric west coast of Maui but in the town of Kahului, which is best known as home to the international airport for Maui, the island’s deep-draft harbor and Costco, but no beaches. Visitors only see this city when they are coming or going.

Tin Roof doesn’t accept reservations so the line out the door goes on for about four hours every day as mostly locals line up for Chef Simeon’s favorite plate lunch fare. He was born and raised in Hawai’i but is careful to say he is not Hawaiian, the original settlers, but is of Filipino descent. The book’s goal is pretty clear from the title: “Cook Real Hawai’i” means what the locals eat, both their daily meals and some celebrations, so it’s a nice mix of recipes to choose from, and yes, there will be SPAM. (Hawai’i is famous for consuming more SPAM than any other US state or territory, except Guam). You will also note, it DOES NOT have pineapple! My point is, recipes do not have to include pineapple to be Hawaiian and most often they don’t.

2 pounds boneless, skin-on chicken thighs

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 scallions, white and green parts separated, greens roughly chopped for garnish

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced and crushed

Place the chicken in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag and rub evenly with the garlic salt, turmeric and pepper. Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge.

Using the butt end (not the handle, but the widest part of the blade next to the handle, away from the pointed end) of a knife, crush the white parts of the scallions and add to a small saucepan along with the shoyu, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Cover over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved, and the sauce has slightly thickened about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Measure out ½ cup of the sauce for basting on the grill. Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken and marinate the chicken for another 2 to 3 hours in the fridge, or overnight, mixing once or twice.

One hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Prepare the grill for high indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, push the coals to one side; for a gas grill, leave one burner off). Using tongs, oil the grates of the grill with an oiled rag or paper towels. (Make sure your grill is clean with none of the other night’s dinner still stuck to the grill.)

When the grill is hot, set the chicken skin-side down on the direct heat side of the grill. (When I tried the recipe I should have known that a cup of sugar in the sauce is going to blacken over high heat so next time I’m cooking the chicken entirely over the lower temp. Might take a few minutes longer but it won’t look like burnt asphalt).

Once the chicken has some grills marks and releases easily from the grates, 2 to 3 minutes, move over indirect heat, still skin-side down, and cook, turning often and basting with the reserved sauce, until the juices run clear and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160° F, another 8 to 10 minutes. The chicken should spend about three-quarters of its grill time skin-side down, which will create a nice charred crust. If the skin is browning too quickly, move it farther way from the heat source (or turn the gas down).

Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Garnish with scallions greens and serve.

Mahi-mahi Sauté with Garlic/Onion Macadamia Nut Crust

Chef Perry Bateman, Mama’s Fish House

Given how famous this restaurant was, I was surprised there is no Mama’s Fish House cookbook (Of course, if Mama is interested, I am available for a writing assignment). These directions seem to be the only authentic recipe on the Internet since the restaurant provided it to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. One of its readers requested the recipe for the restaurants’ famed Polynesian Bla
ck Pearl dessert, which looks like an oyster with a pearl inside. The restaurant was pleased that the reader enjoyed their dinner, but they didn’t have the recipe scaled down for home dining (I also suspect they didn’t want to give out the recipe.) So, they sent this one instead. When my wife and I ate there, I made reservations about 6 months in advance and I chose lunch so we could enjoy the view, The walls are covered in exotic wood panel, particularly the koa wood that Hawai’i is famed for, with the ocean side opened completely to dramatically display its own cove with a sandy beach in front.

I appreciated that the restaurant honors the work of the fishermen who provide their catch by listing their name and where the fish was caught on their daily menu. Our waitress told us a bit about how Floyd and Doris Christenson first visited Hawaii soon after it became a state and later sailed back to Lahaina Harbor to eventually start their restaurant in what at the time was a remote but beautiful part of Maui along the North Shore. Their first cook was the one who suggested the spot be called “Mama’s Fish House” since at that time Maui restaurants were mostly steak houses and Mama’s was only serving fresh local fish. Their whole story, including the family sailing the South Pacific for four years, is on

4 mahi-mahi fillets (about 6 ounces each)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 eggs mixed with ¼ cup of milk

1 can (4.5 ounces) garlic-onion macadamia nuts, finely chopped (see note)

¼ cup heavy whipping cream (optional)

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter

1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil or parsley

Season fillets lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Dust with flour, brush fillets with egg mixture, then coat fillets with chopped macadamia nuts.

Set a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add oil. When the oil is hot, add fish and sauté on one side for about 3 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillets. Do not let the nut crust burn. Turn over and cook the other side until the fish is just done. Do not overcook the fish.

Remove fish from pan and set on serving platters. Deglaze pan with wine, cream if using, and butter. Stir sauce and simmer until sauce is reduced by about half and has thickened slightly. Add fresh herbs and squeeze in lemon juice from wedges. Pour sauce over fish and serve.

Note: The newspaper adds that garlic-onion macadamia nuts may be available at some stores locally. They also can be purchased online at

By Harriet