Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hungry Dog's Hawaiian plate lunch

 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.

Tropical Marmalade*
(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!


  1. OMG, my favorite place on earth too.
    I used to have to eat plate lunch in the Pearl Harbor Kai school cafeteria. I can still manage it.

  2. Oh yum. Looks so good. We're thinking of Kauai in November... I need a break. We'll have to try some of your new favorite places if the trip comes to fruition.

  3. Sounds wonderful. I wish I could get to Kauai, or any of the islands really :) That chicken in macadamia crust , oh yum, and you had me at mango :)

  4. Sounds fabulous. I love how your paired the sweet marmalade with chicken. Maybe I'll make the same dish using other sweet fruits such as peaches or mangoes??

  5. be still my grumbling stomach! I love plate lunch almost as much as I love spam musubi... and kauai!

  6. cookiecrumb:I'm perpetually trying to envision a way to move to Hanalei and actually survive. How?

    Ash: Awesome. Let me know if you need any recs!

    shaz: I love mango too, in almost any form!

    Jackie: Any sweet, tropical fruit would be a good pairing with this chicken!

    foodhoe: I could eat plate lunch every day!

  7. Oh, that macadamia chicken sounds marvelous! And what do you know, I just so happen to have a bag of macadamias idling on the shelf...

  8. Stacie is in Hawaii and I am jealous and now this post is just making we want to go!!! - Simran

  9. So sad about the Hanalei Mixed Plate! I loved their ginger chicken and waffle chips. Your plate looks great with "two scoop"...will try making the chicken with almonds instead of macademias. Coincidentally, I just made a Hawaiian dinner too tonight: chicken long rice and butter mochi.

  10. Wow that chicken looks positively heavenly. I love the ingredients. I hope i do make it to Hawaii one day, i need to drink a fruity drink in a tropical paradise very badly you know.
    Have a wonderful weekend daaaaaaahling.
    *kisses* HH

  11. camille: give it a try! those macadamias won't last forever you know.

    alittleyum: I'm jealous of her too!

    MJ: Yeah, they closed a few years back. Hey send me the recipe for that chicken, will you?

    HH: Hawaii is the ideal location for drinking fruity drinks, particularly if you like the beach. I hope you make it there one day!

  12. I went to Hawaii on my honeymoon ( a million years ago!) and have been back 3 or 4 times since. Love all the islands....but Kauai is certainly the most lovely.
    I've been to Sam Choy's restaurant...had no idea there was a cookbook. What fun to have that!
    I love your Hawaiian plate...the chicken is making my mouth water!

  13. Aww, love plate lunches. But have to admit that now when I go home to Hawaii, it's hard to eat the whole thing. I sometimes order the mini. Your version looks really healthy. If you ever decide to do a plate lunch truck (OMG, I just gave away a business idea for the food truck craze!) you should do it with the healthy salad version. But I do say my favorite part of the plate lunch is the macaroni salad.

  14. It all sounds so delicious (especially the mango salsa coupled with the chicken!), I really like the concept of a Hawaiian plate lunch. It seems so comforting but refreshing at the same time. Dang, makes me wanna be at a beach right now!

  15. Barbara: yes, Kauai is my fave--although I have never been to the Big Island.

    Ben: I love the plate lunch food truck idea. Can I steal it?

    Connie: Oh, I know. It's foggy and cold here right now, I would love to be at the beach--in Hawaii, of course!

  16. I so want to go back to Hawaii. We went 20 years ago for our honeymoon and went to Oahu, The Big Island and Maui. I loved the last too, but would love to do Kauai-friends and family have raved about it.

  17. tamilyn: you and Dude should totally go back to hawaii...and definitely make it to Kauai!

  18. I love a good Hawaiian plate lunch. OK, it's not necessarily the most low-cal thing you can eat. But boy, does it satisfy a craving.

  19. I want a plate lunch now. :) Who needs vegetables anyway?

  20. CJ: It can really hit the spot!

    oneordinaryday: vegetables are over-rated...except for that scurvy thing.