Day two (Friday) was for baking, preparing side dishes, and imu digging. Eric was a huge help to me, he did so much. He pretty much made the AMAZING mango bread with me just giving instructions. Every pa’ina I’ve been to has had several different fruit breads, it’s a really affordable way to make something filling rather cheaply that tastes incredible. This recipe is by Sam Choy, a very popular chef in Hawaii. You can’t mess it up, it’s that amazing! We made it in 3 small loaf pans rather than two regular sized one, seemed to make it stretch farther. Next we made the crusts for my famous Dark Chocolate Haupia Pie. It’s a macadamia nut and oat crust and everyone loves it, trust me, you NEED this crust! We also washed the organic greens, which weren’t actually from Waimanalo where I used to get my favorite ‘Nalo greens, but were from our CSA so totally in keeping with living off the land as the ancient Hawaiians did. I also made some sunomono (a Japanese vinegar salad) using zucchini. You may remember it as my Zucchini Noodle Salad! The kimchee had been made a week ago, so I just needed to taste it Eric and his mom did all the digging, while I directed them very nicely.
Getting to make an imu was really exciting for me because at all the pa’inas I’ve been to in Hawaii, the imu was always men’s work. I could watch, but never participated in the process. By the way, the reason I prefer calling it a pa’ina rather than luau is that luau has come to denote something very touristy to locals. All my friends with Hawaiian and Samoan heritage would invite me to a pa’ina which has come to mean a big party. My favorite ones were thrown by the Hawaiian churches I sometimes attended, oh man their food was no ka ‘oi (the best)! Now you really need a good 10 hours of time for your imu, that didn’t really work with our schedule and we didn’t realize that until it was too late. You need to have your fire going about 2 hours to get the rocks hot enough, but ours only went for about 45 minutes. Then you want about 8 hours of cooking time, and we only had 6. But we just couldn’t handle staying up late enough or getting up early enough for the right timing, so we just went with it and hoped for the best. Here’s how to build your own imu if you don’t live in Hawaii.
We only roasted a pork shoulder, about 6 pounds, so our hole was 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide by 2 feet long. With a whole pig you’d want a wider and longer hole. Don’t dig it too deep or you’ll hurt your back getting the pig out. You want to line the hole with carefully selected stones. In Hawaii they use large lava rocks. We found some grilling lava rocks at Home Depot (where we went for burlap on Friday) but knew they’d be too small to hold heat long enough. So we combined them with bricks which I’ve heard several people have used with great success. You must choose rocks that are porous and don’t contain water or they could explode when they get too hot. Danger!!!
Then build a chimney of wood for your fire and put newspaper shreds and kindling in the middle. Stack some more rocks around the chimney so that when it collapses you will have rocks directly in the middle of the fire. Then light the newspaper and stand back as the newspaper and kindling ignite. Your chimney should catch fire and begin to collapse. Continue adding wood for the next 2 hours to keep the fire going. The rocks/bricks should be white hot. Use a shovel or long stick to spread the coals out. Some people scoop the wood coals out once the fire dies (because you don’t want them to scorch your pig), Eric used a leaf blower to burn them really hot and it was awesome watching the rocks glow.
While your fire is burning you want to soak some burlap bags, or a length of burlap like we got from Home Depot, in a bucket of water. Then get your pig ready.
Place a length of banana leaf (which you can get frozen at an Asian grocer) in a foil pan a little bigger than your pork shoulder or butt. If you’re doing a whole pig, skip the pan and wrap some chicken wire around the finally wrapped pig to make it easy to carry out of the pit. Put the pork on top of the banana leaf and make several holes or slits in it with a knife.
Rub 3 TBS sea salt all over the pig getting it into the slits you cut as well as inside any folds of meat. Make sure to thoroughly cover all sides in salt.
The best salt for Hawaiian cooking is Alaea Sea Salt, I love it’s color and flavor from the red clay in Hawaii. I was so excited to discover that the Asian grocers in our area have a lot of Hawaii products like this salt, Aloha Shoyu, and poi.
Wrap the banana leaf all the way around the pig.
Wrap another leaf around the pig in the other directions so it’s totally covered.
When your rocks are ready, it’s time to set up your vegetation. The banana leaves were a little pricey, and ti leaves would be even more expensive, so we used rhubarb leaves and corn husks, then banana leaves. Once you have about 6 layers of vegetation, place your pig on top. The vegetation will create a lot of steam to cook the pig.
Next you need to cover the pig and vegetation with the soaked burlap. This creates more steam for cooking the pig.
Finally, put a tarp over the pit and bury it under dirt. Make sure there is no steam escaping from any of the edges of the tarp. Now let your pig cook for 8 hours while you work on other preparations, like pie!