Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hawaii's Loco Moco –– A Radical New Style of Burger!

I have been living in the 1960’s of late –– immersed in murder and mayhem while working on a television program this summer. It’s taken me away from Lostpastremembered for quite a long stretch without much in the way of food in the scripts to inspire a post and diabolical catering that dulled my appetite down to a nub. Still, there was a Hawaiian Luau scene in one of the stories that captured my attention. Hawaiian Luau? Hmmm. Now that I’ve got a bit of time to breathe, it’s time to play in the kitchen again.

When I went to research the American variety of the Luau in the 60’s for the movie, I discovered that Hawaii was hot in 1964. Hawaii was a new state as of 1959, Hawaiian music, dance and fashion had been popular since the 1940’s. Those Hawaiian shirts were terribly popular in the 50’s –– think of all the Hawaiian prints in 1953’s From Here to Eternity. In 1961, Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii ignited the flame once again not to mention the surfing craze.

Donna Reed and Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity (1953)

Hawaiian Luaus were the rage –– grass skirted tables, Tiki torches and PuPu platters decorated back yards and Tiki bars everywhere. 

Out of curiosity I thought I would look into real Hawaiian food –– all I knew was the Americanized version with flaming drinks, paper umbrellas in Mai Tais (not to mention such icons as Hula hoops, leis and grass skirts and surf boards that made delightful deposits in the American culture bank).

Don Draper went Hawaiian

It seems that Hawaiian food is a lot like American food. It is gift built from many waves of of visitors and their cultures. Originally, Polynesian travelers arrived and brought food and animals to the unpopulated island in 300CE. Taro, coconuts, yams, sugarcane and meat and fish cooked in ovens come with them. Americans and Europeans came in the 18th century and contributed salted fish and pork. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Philippine and Portuguese foods came with laborers and sailing ships. As a result, Hawaiian food is a grand mix of many cuisines. 

One of the most popular and enduring imports is American Spam. A gift of WWII American occupation, today it is used in everything from stir-fries to a kind of sushi available everywhere called Spam musubi. Spam teriyaki is a great hit and it can be in Saimin noodles included in a  Hawaiian classic with the catchy name of Loco Moco  –– it can even replace the hamburger in the dish.

Loco Moco is a wonder of many cultures –– macaroni salad and hamburgers with a beefy gravy and fried eggs married to a sort of fried noodle that is a blend of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines and the multi-national rice (the dish shares a rice and macaroni salad combination of the Hawaiian “plate lunch” that includes an entrée – originally a leftover special that became a classic).

Loco Moco was created at the Lincoln Grill restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii at the request of teenagers who called the dish “crazy” after a friend’s nickname Loco once they tasted the wild alternative to a simple burger. Moco was added because it made it sound like fun. It is certainly a carbohydrate overload that’s fun, filling and full of flavor. It will make your guests laugh to hear the name and smile to enjoy the flavor combinations.

Loco Moco, serves 4 (adapted from Guy Fieri recipe)

3 c cooked brown or white rice (rinsed before cooking)
4 hamburgers (or slices of Spam if that't your preference)
Loco Moco gravy

4 Fried eggs (sunny side up, cooked in butter)
Hawaiian Macaroni salad
Fried Saimin noodles

Put rice on a plate, top with a bit of Loco Moco gravy, hamburger, gravy on the burger and the fried egg on top.

Put Hawaiian Macaroni and fried Saimin noodles on plate with burger and serve.


1 lb hamburger meat
¼ c chopped sweet onion
oil for the pan
salt and pepper to taste.

Gently combine the meat and onion and seasoning and make into 4 paddies. Cook in a hot covered skillet for 2-4 minutes a side for R to M. Set aside.  * substitute Spam slices if you would like

 Loco Moco Gravy

1 T unsalted butter
¼ c diced sweet onion
1/3 c chopped mushrooms
1 ½ c low sodium beef broth (I reduced Whole Foods rather watery beef stock to make it richer)
2 T demi glace (optional)
2 t Worcestershire
1 T cornstarch

Sauté onions and mushrooms in butter in the pan in which the burgers were cooked, scooping up and browned bits. Add the stock and reduce a bit. Add the demi glace. Add some water to the cornstarch to make a slurry and add to the gravy to thicken.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad based on a Wanderlust Kitchen recipe (serves 4)

1 c dry macaroni, cooked
3 T cider vinegar
1t brown sugar
¼ t salt
½ t pepper
½ c mayo
½ c milk
2-5 packets wasabi (to taste – I love the heat so went full out)
1 green onion, sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

Cook macaroni as instructed. Drain, and toss with cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.

Add 1/2 the milk and mayonnaise and blend. Chill

Add the chopped vegetables and the rest of the mayo-milk.

Fried Saimin Noodles (based on Hawaii cooks with Spam cookbook recipe)

½ pound fresh saimin noodles or fresh pasta, cooked
1 T oil
¼ c chopped onion
1 c chopped cabbage
1 carrot, grated
1 c sliced, cooked string beans
1 green onion, sliced
¼ c chopped Spam (optional)
1” piece ginger, grated
1 t hoisin sauce
2 T soy sauce
1 T oyster sauce
1 T sesame oil
additional green onion slices for garnish

Cook the noodles and set aside. Sauté the vegetables and Spam if you are using it in the oil until softened. Add the noodles to the pan and heat. Add the ginger, hoisin, oyster and sesame oil. Sprinkle with extra green onion slices for color

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