Lau Lau is actually a traditional method of cooking in Hawaii. It was not known as a specific dish until more recent times when this Lau Lau pork recipe became synonymous with the term.
The method involves wrapping the ingredients to be steam cooked, wrapped in leaves. These ingredients include chunks of a fatty meat (traditionally usually pork) a slab of “butterfish” (salted cod), and some sweet potatoes. Traditionally the leaves used were (and still are today, by many Hawaiian cooks) the Taro leaves. Taro leaves are difficult to come by if you are not on the Islands, so for the purposes of this recipe we are recommending using banana or mango leaves.
The ingredients are then tied up into a packet and then steamed in an underground “imu”. An imu oven is an earth oven. A large pit is dug into the ground. Into the pit’s bottom goes a thick layer of lava rocks that have been heated to a steaming, sizzling red hot over an open fire nearby. A thick layer of banana leaves are then layered over the hot rocks. Then the Lau Lau packets are placed on top of the banana leaves, and the packets are covered over with another thick layer of leaves. Finally, the remainder of the pit is filled back up with the dirt. The hot rocks will steam the moisture in the leaves, thus steam cooking the lau lau packets. They are left buried to steam for as long as 6 to 8 hours before getting dug up to eat.
Nowadays, lots of Hawaiians will skip all the work of preparing an imu, preferring to cook Lau Lau in a pressure cooker or a rice cooker. Sometimes it is even baked in an oven. You can also substitute other types of meat for the pork. You will find personal preferences ranging everywhere from fresh-caught fish, to chicken, to corned beef. This recipe calls for the more traditional pork, hence the name Lau Lau Pork.
Modernized Lau Lau Pork Recipe-
- 5 or 6 lb. pork butt roast, (cut meat away from the bone, if it comes with bone in, and chop the meat into bite-sized chunks)
- 4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite sized chunks
- 2 lb. salt cod, cut into larger chunks
- 2 lb. fresh or frozen banana leaves, (or you can use mango leaves, also) cleaned and thick ribs removed
- 3 + 2 tbsp. (divided) Hawaiian sea salt
- 3 + 2 tbsp. (divided) Aloha shoyu sauce
- fresh water
- kitchen twine
- Rinse and pat dry the pork chunks with a clean kitchen cloth or paper towels.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the meat chunks, add in 3 tablespoons each of the sea salt and shoyu sauce, and toss and stir to season the meat evenly.
- In another bowl, place the sweet potato chunks and season and coat them with the remaining shoyu and salt.
- Remove stems and tough center ribs from banana leaves if you are using fresh leaves. If you buy frozen or fresh packages of the leaves, they are usually prepared and ready to use – just thaw them out before you start your meal preparations if they come frozen.
- Stack 2 large banana leaves on top of each other or 4 to 6 medium to small banana leaves. Place chunks of seasoned pork, sweet potato and salt cod in the center of the leaves.
- Wrap the leaves around the ingredients, creating a bundle, then tie the bundles up tight with kitchen twine.
- Line a large (5-quart, at least) crock-pot bottom and sides with leaves, with the shiny sides up, facing the packets. This should form a sort of “basket” all the way up the sides of the pot.
- Place all remaining leaves over top, now with the shiny sides down, again facing the packets. Tuck in the edges snugly.
- Seal the top of the pot with aluminum foil, and then place the lid over the foil, sealing the pot tightly shut.
- Cook on low for 8 hours or until the leaves have turned dark green, soft, and fully cooked.
- Serve your Lau Lau pork right along with the cooked leaves with a side of freshly steamed white rice.
Note: For more delicious Hawaiian recipes, click here.
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