The Great ‘Ulu Challenge

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Story by Becky Speere

Ulu chowder
Too good to save for special occasions, chef Tylun Pang’s ‘Ulu Chowder With Kona Lobster and Sweet Kula Corn does double duty as either a starter or a main course. No lobster? Sub a nice piece of locally caught fish instead.

When John Cadman took over the chef management of the kitchen at the Upcountry campus of Kamehameha School in 2011, one of his biggest goals was to bring ‘ulu back into the ‘opu (bellies) of Hawaiian children — many of whom had never tasted this important “canoe crop,” introduced by their ancestors who arrived here in great sailing canoes. With Western contact, breadfruit fell out of favor as a dietary staple, replaced in large part by imported potatoes and rice, and very few chefs regularly incorporated ‘ulu into their daily menus. It still existed deep in the memories of the kūpuna (elders) and oldtime plantation workers, and my mother, the daughter of sugarcane field laborers, would pan-fry slices of ‘ulu in oil and serve it with a drizzle of shoyu for dinner. Not fancy, but tasty and nutritious all the same.

So when I heard Cadman was substituting ‘ulu for potatoes in mass quantities of “potato salad” for Kamehameha School, I was intrigued. I paid him a visit and watched as he prepared the dish with diced ‘ulu, hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, minced onions, grated carrots and parsley. It was delicious!

‘Ulu is a happy partner in all dishes because, like a chameleon, it takes on whatever character you assign it. Do you want it to be spicy like rissoles or make it into a lovely, sweet pie? ‘Ulu will comply.

I predict ‘ulu will start to trend this year due to accessibility and ease of use. Duane Lammers and Gary Johnson of Hana Ranch have brought a ready-to-cook-and-eat product to the market. Look for it in the freezer section of your favorite store, and if you don’t find it, ask the store manager to carry it. If you have access to fresh breadfruit, use some and share some with your neighbors, and with ‘ulu in hand, make some of these delicious recipes. As you enjoy them with friends and family, be thankful for this ancient crop and the enterprising people who brought it to the Islands so many years ago.


Basic ‘Ulu Preparation

The ripeness of your ‘ulu will determine its best use. If it is soft, ripe and spoonable, use it for sweet recipes such as pie — no cooking necessary. If it is hard and firm, use it in a delicious savory dish. Here are two easy ways to cook your ‘ulu. Make a batch ahead of time and store it in the fridge for a whole week’s worth of meals.

1. Wash and dry ‘ulu. Cut into quarters. Remove and discard spongy core. Dice remaining flesh into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until easily pierced with a fork, but still firm. Drain and allow to cool.

2. Wash and dry ‘ulu. Place it whole in a steamer and cook 45 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center slides in easily (similar to a cooked potato). Cool until manageable, then remove outer skin. Cut in half and remove core and spongy center. Dice remaining flesh.


Ulu chowder

RECIPE:
‘Ulu Chowder With Kona Lobster and Sweet Kula Corn

Courtesy of chef Tylun Pang from the Fairmont Kea Lani, Wailea

Makes 4 to 6 Servings | Prep Time: 1 Hour

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups ‘ulu, cooked and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup Kula corn kernels (2 ears)
  • 1 cup cooked Kona lobster meat
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • ground white pepper, to taste
  • pinch fresh parsley, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS: In a large soup pot, melt butter over moderate heat. Add bacon and cook until lightly browned. Add onions, celery and garlic and saute until soft. Add flour and stir to coat; don’t burn! Slowly pour in chicken stock while stirring and bring to a boil. Add bay leaf, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add ‘ulu and return to a simmer. Cook another 10 minutes, then add corn, lobster and cream. Stir as you heat to a simmer. Season with Tabasco and salt and pepper (to taste). Top with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

1 COMMENT

  1. I started working as a purchaser/receiver at Mama’s Fish House in January 2000.
    Chef Perry Bateman would buy approximately 120 lbs. of Ulu a week from Hana. He incorporated it into many different recipes on his local Hawaiian menu, both savory and sweet.
    I became addicted to it’s texture and flavor.

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