Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mainland Lau Lau with Pork

I may get my mug on a Hawai'i wanted poster for this bastardized version of an island native recipe favorite. And if I end up in the slammer, I hope they serve Lau Lau for jailhouse meals!

I live in Los Angeles and could probably find Taro leaves somewhere. But, I want to make sure anyone on the Mainland can enjoy my cheap$kate version of Lau Lau - which is simply seasoned hunks of pork wrapped in Taro leaves and slow cooked to delicious tenderness.

You can read all about the origins of Lau Lau here. It's similar to Kalua Pig, which I wrote a recipe of a couple weeks ago, just click here to see it. Kalua Pig is wrapped in banana leaves, while Lau Lau is wrapped in Taro leaves and steamed/baked underground; think Southern BBQ-style, it's Low 'n Slow.

And to take the comparison further, instead of using hard-to-find Taro leaf, I substitute with Southern Greens! Yep, and collard greens even look like Taro leaf. Both have large ribs with a deep green hue. Even the taste is similar. When cooked you could put them side-by-side and not be able to tell the difference, unless you are a Hawaiian cook. Just compare my steamed Collard Green Lau Lau with real Taro Leaf Lau Lau.

Click on any photo to see larger.

The main difference between Taro Leaf and Collard greens is the texture. Collard greens are a little more firm after cooking. I'm sure you could tell the difference if you tasted each cooked leaf at the same sitting, but my version of Southern-style Mainland Lau Lau is a tasty alternative.

Greens are cheap, I get mine from my local Mexican grocery store for less than a dollar per bundle. Each bundle holds about 5-8 leaves. You could stretch out my recipe (that serves 4) and get away with one bundle, but 2 bundles would give you plenty of greens to go with the pork.

For this recipe I used collard and turnip greens. While collard looks similar to taro leaf, turnip greens get more tender like cooked taro leaf. It's okay to mix and match your favorite leafy greens.

You can use any greens you find on sale at your own grocery or farmers market, including: collard, turnip, mustard, Swiss chard, kale and even spinach.You just need enough to wrap pork into bundles for steaming.

Pork is the main protein. On the Island, they add a little firm fish with the pork. I'm keeping it simple and cheap, by leaving out the fish. For my recipe I used a little over 3 pounds of meaty country-style pork ribs for around 99 cents per pound. I got 4 big ribs.They are ready to go, just trim of any excess fat, but leave some on as it's extra flavor.

Country-style ribs hold much more meat than your typical BBQ rib. And each rib is large enough for a single serving. You could go even cheaper by buying a whole pork shoulder. Just remove the meat from the bone and skin. It's okay to leave the meat in large hunks, for wrapping in greens.

It takes 3 to 4 hours for Lau Lau to steam tender. But it is so simple to make, with few ingredients. Just season the pork with salt, rub on some liquid smoke (optional) and wrap it up with a couple layers of leaves. Finally loosely wrap it with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Lau Lau is a surprise package - lay it out and watch the smile appear on your dinner guests as they unpeel it. My cheap$kate Mainland Lau Lau si going right into my recipe favorites. And you don't need to spring for a plane ticket to Hawai'i to taste my local SoCal Lau Lau.

Ingredients (about 4-5 servings)
  • 3-4 pounds pork - I used 4 meaty country style pork ribs. Okay to use any pork pieces. Cheapest to use pork shoulder (trim off the meat from bone.)
  • 2 bundles of edible greens - Enough to wrap pork 2 to 3 times. For this recipe I used collard and mustard greens. Normally taro leaves are used. If you can find them, then use. Okay to use kale or any favorite edible greens like: collard, mustard, Swiss chard, turnip, kale and even spinach.
  • Salt to taste - Get out the Hawaiian salt, if you have any.
  • 2 tablespoons Liquid Smoke - optional. Will taste delish, it's all about the leafy wrapping.
  • Aluminum foil - about 4 sheets to wrap Lau Lau.
  • Water for steaming Lau Lau.

Prepare pork. If you are using country style ribs then all you need to do is trim of excess fat. Okay to leave some fat, as it's extra flavor. For pork stew meat that's already sliced, you'll just pile it on the leaves.

Country Style Pork Ribs

For cheap pork shoulder you need to trim off the meat. It has a thick layer of skin you can discard. It's okay if the meat pieces are left large. They will cook until fall-apart tender.

Rub Liquid Smoke onto pork. Allow meat to absorb Liquid Smoke and rub again to use it all up. This is optional. The greens will flavor the meat too. Season meat with salt to taste.

Wash and set out edible greens. Trim off any yellowing stems or tough ends.

Wrap meat 2 to 3 times. The leafy packages should be big enough for a single serving - about the size of a burrito, or an extra large tamale. Finally, wrap each bundle with foil to keep it from falling apart. Some greens may get too mushy, so foil is a simple way to keep it all together. You can loosely wrap pork and greens with foil. It's okay to let some steam into bundles.

Wrapping Collard Greens

Wrapping Turnip Greens

 What you want is enough greens to eat with the pork. So you can wrap the pork with as may leaves as you like. Add leaf pieces too, just pile it on.

You can even use spinach leaves. But make sure to wrap spinach packages in foil, as spinach will get too mushy and may fall off pork.

Add wrapped pork bundles to a steamer pot. Add enough water to just reach the foil-wrapped packages. Cover the pot. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook pork until tender, about 3-4 hours. Check every hour to make sure water doesn't evaporate - add water as needed.

Lau Lau may cook quicker or take even longer; it all depends how thick the pork pieces are. You can cook Lau Lau as long as it takes (steam will keep it moist,) so just cook it until very tender. You can keep it warm, until ready to serve, in the steamer pot, too.

If you do not have a steamer pot, just get your largest pot and add a ceramic (or metal) bowl, upside down, on bottom of pot. Stack on the foil wrapped Lau Lau. Add enough water to just cover the ceramic bowl. You can use a small steamer rack on the bottom of the pot, too. Again check water level every hour. Add water as needed. Water can come in contact with foil wrapped Lau Lau.

When done, open one package to make sure meat is fall-apart tender. If not, rewrap and keep steaming in half hour to hour increments. It's hard to over-cook this recipe, so cooking it too long is okay.

Set out packages and allow to cool down for a few minutes so you can remove foil and serve. For a Lau Lau Plate, I like to have Macaroni Salad and Sticky Rice as side dishes. My recipes for those are a click away here. If you serve Lau Lau with above sides, then half a bundle per person may be enough -- so that makes even more servings of Lau Lau!

Also, reserve a cup or so of simmering water that's now flavored with pork and greens (called pot liquor.) You can drizzle some onto cooked meat to moisten it more.

Lau Lau leftovers freeze fine. Heat it up in the microwave. Remove foil and drizzle on some pot liquor before heating.

I used Liquid Smoke, but you can leave it out - the edible leaves will flavor the pork enough.

I steamed the Lau Lau, but if you have a pressure cooker, then use that. It will cook in about 45 minutes to an hour. For a crock pot it will take all day at low temperature.

You can't over-steam Lau Lau. It depends how large the pork pieces are to how long you cook the pork. My country style ribs took about 4 hours to tenderize. In Hawai'i I got some  Lau Lau from a food truck. I'm sure the Lau Lau was steaming all day and it tasted fine. Click here to see my Lau Lau truck video.

I used Southern-style turnip and collard greens, but you can use any favorite greens, like: collard, mustard, Swiss chard, turnip, kale, or even spinach. Wrap the pork with enough greens so you get a nice veggie serving. It's okay to mix and match greens.

I noticed collard greens look like taro leaves, but are more firm (when cooked) than taro leaves. Turnip greens are tender like taro leaves.

To see other Hawaii Travelogue blog posts with video, photos, text & GIFs, just click on any link below:
Visit to O'ahu, Hawai'i - intro 
Windward Shore & Keneke Grill


A Better Man said...

Taro leaves have such a distinct & unique flavor that it seemed so wrong to make lay lay without it.

In Michigan, I found a taro (or luau) leaf source at an oriental food store. The leaves were dried & packaged and very cheap. My haole wife LOVED the lau lau flavor! Now that we're in Florida, I imagine taro leaves should be easier to find.

But I do want try the collard & turnip greens. On a budget & I gotta remember to prioritize function over form.

Great blog!! Thank you!!!

Billy Vasquez said...

hi Better Man, collard and taro, while not the same exact flavor, do share some similarity. They look the same, at least when steamed for hours. I made this while I still had a vague memory of the Lau Lau I had in Hawaii in the early summer, so give it a try, not too bad ;-p

Karl said...

I imagine 99 Ranch Market would have taro leaf.

I'll have to give this a try, though, maybe with the collards, maybe with banana leaf.

Billy Vasquez said...

hi Karl, hope you can find taro leaf. While banana leaf gives a good flavor, you can't eat them ;-p

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