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Slow ono luau

    Pork, chicken and sweet potatoes are layered with luau leaves in a Deconstructed Lau Lau.

An imu provides hours of long, slow cooking, steaming and tenderizing foods. A Crock-Pot does much the same, without the hole in the ground and the fire.

All told — much more practical, especially for those who don’t have much of a backyard. Or a shovel. The only thing missing is the smoke, but that conveniently comes in bottles. (I once explained to my son, long distance, how to make kalua pork in his apartment oven, and he said, "Liquid smoke? Is that even real?" It is a bizarre concept. But never mind, run with it.)

Several readers have sent me their recipes for Crock-Pot Hawaiian dishes, which seem to be among the easiest and most foolproof in the repertoire.

With Kamehameha Day approaching and the usual early summer social whirl of graduations, Father’s Day potlucks and general eat-athons upon us, it seemed timely to put together suggestions for a Crock-Pot luau. You’ll find a collection of recipes on the back page of this section.

For the most part, though, this method is simple enough to require no formal recipes. All you need besides the main ingredient are sea salt and liquid smoke. And maybe water.

Some easy examples:

Kalua Pork

Take a 3- to 5-pound piece of pork butt and pierce it all around. Rub with sea salt and a tablespoon or so of liquid smoke. Place in slow-cooker on low for about 10 hours, until tender. (Line the crock with ti leaves if you want.)

Shred meat; skim fat from liquid in pot and use to moisten meat.

This process can also be used for chicken (whole or pieces) or turkey (breast or legs). Cooking time will be about four hours for chicken; six to eight hours for turkey. Chef Alan Wong told me he once did this with a 5-pound ham, minus the salt.

Kalua Pork and Cabbage

Same as above, but return shredded meat to pot and add 4-to-6 cups shredded cabbage; let steep with heat off until wilted.

Luau Stew

Also basically the same, except use beef stew meat, in chunks, layered with luau leaves (if using a lot of leaves, blanch them first in boiling water so they’ll fit in the crock). If you want it extra soupy, add 1 cup water.

For chicken luau, use skinless chicken thighs. Shred or cut up meat after it’s cooked and stir 1 cup coconut milk into pot.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Scrub whole potatoes (or taro) and rub with vegetable oil and sea salt. Roast in slow-cooker 8 to 10 hours, until easily pierced with a fork. Slice and serve.

Traditional lau lau is a major undertaking that involves making individual bundles of meat, butterfish and luau leaves tied in ti leaves, then steamed for hours.


Several readers suggested a lazier Crock-Pot version in which meat and luau leaves are simply slow-cooked together. I combined their suggestions to make this layered lau lau with pork, chicken and sweet potatoes.

Deconstructed Lau Lau for the Slow-Cooker

2 pounds luau leaves, trimmed of stems and fibrous parts
3 pounds pork butt, cut in large chunks, fat trimmed
3 teaspoons liquid smoke, divided use
1/4 cup sea salt, divided use
Ti leaves to line crock
1 pound sweet potato, scrubbed, cut in 3/4-inch slices
2 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in, skin and excess fat removed

Blanch luau leaves in pot of boiling water, cooking 2 to 3 minutes until wilted (otherwise leaves will not fit in pot). Rub pork with 2 teaspoons liquid smoke and 2 tablespoons salt.

Line bottom of 6-quart Crock-Pot with ti leaves. Top with pork pieces. Cover with half the luau leaves. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Top with sweet potato and remaining luau leaves. (No need to add water. Enough liquid will cook out of the pork and luau leaves.) Cover with more ti leaves. Cook on low 2 hours.

Rub chicken thighs with remaining liquid smoke and salt. Lift ti leaves and nestle chicken into luau leaves so they are mostly covered. Re-place ti leaves. Cook 4 to 5 more hours, until chicken is falling off bone and pork is very tender.

Discard ti leaves. Remove chicken bones and tear chicken into bite-size pieces (it will pull apart easily). Serve out of crock or spoon into deep serving dish, arranging pork, chicken, luau leaves and sweet potato in separate layers. Pour juices from pot over all. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: (assumes 1 /2  salt consumed): 600 calories, 38 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 175 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,500 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 48 g protein

Note: If desired, 2 large butterfish steaks may be added just under the top layer of ti leaves in the last hour of cooking. They will develop a very nice flavor, but will become so soft that they will fall to pieces and you’ll have to fish out the bones.

The traditional luau dessert is haupia, but the Crock-Pot offers no advantage over the stovetop in making that dish. In fact, with haupia the refrigerator does most of the work.

Instead I offer this coconutty bread pudding, based on a basic recipe from It “bakes” in a dish that you place inside your crock. I have a 5-cup round Corningware dish that fits inside my 6-quart oval slow-cooker.

Coconut and Mango Bread Pudding

2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup evaporated milk
4 cups dry French bread with crust, cut into
1-inch cubes
1 cup diced fresh mango

Lightly grease a baking dish that will fit inside a 5- or 6-quart slow-cooker. If you have a smaller cooker, pudding may be made directly in the crock.

Beat eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla and cinnamon in large bowl. Add coconut milk and evaporated milk and mix well. Add bread cubes and stir to coat. Fold in mango. Pour into baking dish. Place dish in slow-cooker; cook on high 3 hours.

Serve warm or chilled. Garnish with whipped cream or sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serves 8 to 10.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Variations: For more coconut flavor, add 1/2 cup coconut flakes to pudding and garnish with more flakes. Other fruit may be used in place of mango, such as blueberries, apples or peaches. Dried fruit such as raisins may also be added in place of some or all the fresh fruit.

One of the things a slow-cooker does better than any other heat source is make soup stock. A pot of meat or bones barely covered with water, allowed to cook on low heat for hours, yields a rich and flavorful broth that you can sip right out of the pot or use as the basis of any number of soups or stews.

Chicken Long Rice is something I usually skip at the luau table. I’ve always found it a bit blah compared with the bold flavors offered by other dishes. But this version, built on a broth made with a few chicken thighs and just a bit of ginger, is much tastier than the average.

Thanks to Shannon Flores for the suggestion.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Long Rice

6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin and excess fat removed
2-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced and smashed
2 cups water
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon, optional for extra flavor
4 ounces long rice or bean thread noodles
(2 small packages), soaked in water to soften
4 cups watercress (leaves and thin stems only; discard thick stems)

Place chicken and ginger in 5- or 6-quart Crock-Pot, add water and bouillon if using. Cook on low 4 hours or until chicken is very tender (do not overcook or it will dry out).

Remove chicken, debone and shred.

Add long rice and watercress to crock. Turn off and let sit 15 minutes. Noodles will absorb most of the liquid and watercress will wilt. Stir in shredded chicken. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving, with bouillon: 120 calories, 2 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 300 mg sodium, 45 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrate, no fiber or  sugar, 11 g protein
Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.

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