Friday, June 14, 2019

Loco Moco + Hawaiian Mac Salad

I first ate loco moco, a Hawaiian favorite featuring white rice topped with a burger patty, gravy, and finished with a fried egg, at Kona Cafe at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. It sounded amazing but the execution was disappointing. It was incredibly underseasoned, bland in fact. Once I learned what loco moco was, however, I was intrigued and wanted to enjoy a better tasting version. Since a trip to Hawaii isn't in the plans anytime soon, I decided to make it myself!

According to the story, loco moco originated on the Big Island of Hawaii, although the exact origin is heavily debated. It's a dish that can easily be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is available any time of day in Hawaii, making it an epic hangover meal as well as a late night staple.

This particular loco moco recipe features a mushroom and caramelized onion gravy, although it's not quite as thick as a typical American gravy. If it's too thin for your liking, you can certainly thicken it more with a bit of additional cornstarch, but it was fine for us.

I made sure to use the same type of rice used throughout Hawaii, which is Calrose or Kokuho Rose, a sticky, medium-grain California-grown rice that can also be used for sushi. I found it at a local Asian supermarket for fairly cheap, but it's also available online if you can't find it elsewhere.

I decided to zhuzh up my loco moco a bit by turning it into a Hawaiian plate lunch. What's a plate lunch, you ask? It's basically a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad such as macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. The exact variations of both the plate lunch and the mac salad component can range significantly not only from restaurant to restaurant but also island to island. Loco moco can easily be upgraded into a plate lunch as it is already served on rice and includes a protein. I simply added a scoop of mac salad on the side and my plate lunch was born. It's a thing of beauty!

Long story short, this loco moco is crazy good! See what I did there? Loco? Crazy? Yeah, I'm funny. Although I'm not the biggest fan of plain, sticky, steamed white rice, the mushroom gravy in this case soaks into the rice, giving it tons of flavor. The beef patty is also super flavorful, enhanced with onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. A fried egg, complete with runny yolk, is the figurative icing on the cake. What a magical combination?! God bless whoever actually invented this dish, and thank goodness I decided to give it another chance after the disappointment at Disney's Kona Cafe (as much as I love Disney, it dropped the ball with this dish).

And let's not forget the mac salad! It truly deserves its own post, it's that good, but it made more sense to me to include it in the loco moco post since they were served collectively as a plate lunch. I actually made half the quantity listed in the recipe below, and it was still plentiful especially if you're only serving an ice cream scoop's worth of salad per person.

Although from my understanding locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat, I cooked mine the way I typically prefer, al dente, and I have zero complaints. The salad is enhanced with grated carrot and onion, some acidity from apple cider vinegar, and a touch of sugar in the Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise-based dressing. These are the only brands of mayo that are used in Hawaiian mac salad, and they are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the region of the United States where you are purchasing them. On the west coast it's Best Foods, and on the east it's Hellman's. I wasn't about to commit Hawaiian mac salad blasphemy, so I made sure to use the Hellman's like a good girl :) The mac salad was really good! Again, there are many different variations to the basic salad, but this is a good starting point. In my research most recipes stick to the basics below with a few tweaks here and there.

If a trip to Hawaii is not in the cards (maybe someday), this loco moco plate lunch will definitely satisfy the craving for traditional Hawaiian flavors. Aloha!

Loco Moco
Serves 4
(From Aloha Kitchen)

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 medium Maui or yellow onion; 1/4 finely chopped, and 3/4 sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
2 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce (shoyu)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups steamed white rice (preferably Calrose or Kokuho Rose medium-grain white rice)
4 large eggs, fried sunny-side up or over easy
2 chopped green onions, green parts only, for garnish

In a bowl combine the ground beef, salt, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Worcestershire sauce, chopped onion, and garlic. Gently mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until just combined; don't overmix. Form into four equal-size patties about 1/2 inch thick. Place the patties on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.

While the patties are resting, add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion wedges and saute until almost translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and caramelized. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl the pan around to evenly coat it, then gently place the patties in the pan, leaving room around each one. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, remove the patties and transfer to a clean plate to rest. Cover with foil to keep the patties hot while you make the gravy.

Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to the pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the reserved caramelized onions. Add the beef broth, soy sauce, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-low, scoop out a tablespoon of the broth from the skillet, and whisk it with the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the skillet and simmer until the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes (note: it will not be quite as thick as a traditional American gravy, but it will thicken slightly; use more cornstarch if you prefer a thicker gravy).

Place 1 cup steamed rice on each plate and top in this order with 1 patty, some gravy, 1 fried egg, and chopped green onions before serving.

Hawaiian Mac Salad
Serves 6 to 8

8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 carrot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated onion (it will be liquidy)
1 1/4 cups Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (the locals tend to overcook the pasta until it's soft and fat, but I prefer mine a bit more al dente--use your judgement). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.


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