Anyone who's been to Hawaii probably knows about the plate lunch, which, in my mind, is as iconic and ubiquitous there as the beautiful plumeria flower. When you spend the day in and out of the ocean, breathing good, salty air, you work up an appetite quickly. The plate lunch is the perfect solution to your growling stomach.
The plate lunch generally consists of some kind of meat (chicken adobo, kalua pork, teriyaki ribs), along with two scoops of starch: one of fat-grained, sticky rice and one of creamy, cool, mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad.
If you are wondering where the vegetables are, they're not, save for the soft, wilty cabbage that sometimes comes with the kalua pork.
While eating this kind of stick-to-your-ribs food makes no sense at all when you are running around in a bathing suit, you can't help but eat it anyway, because it's so damn good, and as we all know, vacation is a time for decadence, not diets.
For many years, our favorite place to get a plate lunch was Hanalei Mixed Plate, a takeout joint on the North Shore of Kauai, my favorite place on earth. While sadly this place crumbled along with so many other local businesses during the economic downturn, the husband and I are fortunate to have spent many a day perched on the beat-up stools in front of the Mixed Plate takeout window, sandy and damp from the beach, eating the Hawaiian version of comfort food on paper plates with plastic forks. Heaven, I tell you.
With our recent heatwave, I got the idea of making some Hawaiian food. I decided to make macadamia nut chicken, a recipe I had long admired in Sam Choy's Island Flavors cookbook.
It's very simple. Marinate the chicken in a sweet-salty, soy-based blend for an hour, then bread it in crushed macadamia nuts and bread crumbs and pan-fry. The chicken is supposed to go with a tropical marmalade, which sounds dynamite, but I didn't have the ingredients on hand.
I made the mistake of using chicken breasts that were too fat, so they took much longer than the eight minutes the recipe indicated. If you make this, and I hope you do, either get thinner breasts or pound them a little. I might go for boneless, skinless chicken thighs next time.
In spite of having to cook the chicken for nearly 25 minutes (you have to keep the heat at medium so as not to burn the coating)--every piece turned out perfectly, thanks to the marinade. Hey, chicken, let's lean in for your close-up so I can show off how moist and juice you were.
I threw together a mango-ginger salsa to go with the chicken and blew the husband's mind with his favorite Hawaiian dish, a traditional mac salad.
There was also the requisite scoop o' rice and some stir-fried boy choy, which got largely forgotten in our hot, happy, eating frenzy.
The next day, I opted for a cold plate lunch, just chicken with salsa and a mound of mac salad. Although it was no substitute for being in Kauai, it certainly was delicious.
Macadamia Nut Chicken with Tropical Marmalade
From Sam Choy's Island Flavors
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Chicken Barbecue Marinade (below)
1 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped
3/4 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. oil
1 T. butter
Marinate the chicken in Chicken Barbecue Marinade for 1 hour, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken, and allow to drain.
Combine the macadamia nuts and bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in flour, dip in beaten eggs, and coat with the macadamia nut mixture.
In a heavy skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Saute the chicken for about 6-8 minutes, turning once. Add a little oil if necessary, since the nuts may absorb oil. Serve with tropical mamalade (or mango salsa).
Chicken Barbecue Marinade
(makes about 3/4 cup)
1/2 c. soy sauce
1 1/2 T. brown sugar
1 T. mirin
1 T. olive oil
1 t. minced fresh garlic
1 t. peeled and minced fresh ginger
Combine all ingredients.
(makes about 1 cup)
2 c. diced fresh pineapple
1 c. diced fresh papaya
1/2 c. gooseberries (ground cherries) (optional)
6 T. sugar, or to taste
Fresh mint or spearmint, chopped
1/8 t. prepared horseradish or to taste (optional)
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except the mint. Bring to a boil, then simmer--stirring every 5 minutes to avoid scorching-- for 1 hour or until the mixture reaches jam consistency. Cool. Last, fold in the fresh mint to taste. Horseradish may be added if desired.
* As noted above, I did not make this, but I plan to!