The Plate Lunch (Huli Huli Chicken and Mac Salad)
The plate lunch is as Hawaiian as it gets. You can find them all over the place, and they always have the same formula: a meat, two scoops of rice, and one scoop of macaroni salad. Common meats include Hawaiian favorites like kalua pork, huli huli chicken, and teriyaki chicken or beef. A plate with more than one meat is typically called a mixed plate, and for me there are few better meals out there.
On my last trip to Hawaii, I tried to sample as many plate lunches as I could find. Fortunately, there are many food trucks all over the island making them. My favorite was found on the road to Hana. This man set up a stand on a pull-out off the road and made an amazing kalua pork and mac salad. The real icing on the cake was that he served the meal on a banana leaf and cut fresh chopsticks for you from bamboo, so it was all garbage-free. Very cool.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me with plate lunches was the mac salad. I knew that the huli huli chicken and kalua pork were going to be amazing, but I was not expecting to fall in love with Hawaiian mac salad the way that I did. I am used to the mediocre stuff that occasionally shows up at potlucks in the contiguous, and this is certainly not that.
Next time you want to knock some socks off at a potluck or simply introduce your friends to the beauty of the plate lunch, give this recipe a try. Trust me, it’ll be eaten with startling speed.
Hawaiian Mac Salad
1 lb. macaroni noodles
1.5 cups grated carrot (about 2 large carrots)
2 bunches of scallions, white part only (around ½ cup)
1.5 cups mayonnaise (use the good stuff like helmann’s or duke’s)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
½ cup whole milk
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
Salt, to taste
Cook and drain the macaroni and put it in a large bowl. Add the grated carrot and scallions.
In a smaller bowl, combine the mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, and black pepper. Mix well.
Pour the dressing over the macaroni and stir in. Add salt to taste.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours for the flavors to combine and mellow.
Enjoy as a side dish at a barbecue or in a plate lunch!
And now for the Huli Huli Chicken:
Huli, in Hawaiian, means turn. The name Huli-Huli chicken comes from a style of barbecuing chickens on a spit or rotisserie, where they are turned and turned to cook a perfect, juicy, delicious chicken.
It is, essentially, a teriyaki-style marinade, supplemented with Hawaiian flavors. Like many Hawaiian foods, it is rooted in a fusion of different cultures and cooking techniques, and is absolutely delicious.
The sauce serves as both marinade and basting sauce and is full of that delicious fusion of flavors that make Hawaiian food so good.
Huli Huli Chicken
3 lbs. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
⅓ cup ketchup
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar, packed
5 hefty cloves of garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
2 tbsp rice vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
1 large can of pineapple rings (~20 oz.)
Mix the ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and sesame oil in a large bowl. Open the can of pineapple and pour the juice in as well. Stir it all up until well-combined.
Pour about a cup of the sauce into another vessel, like a small jar. This will be reserved for basting. That way you can baste with the reserved marinade and do not need to worry about undercooking it.
Add the chicken thighs to the bowl with the remaining sauce, and put it in the fridge overnight to marinate.
The next day, grill the chicken over a hot grill or in a hot pan for 13-15 minutes, flipping several times. Near the end of the cook, baste with the reserved sauce.
Grill the pineapple rings to garnish while the chicken rests.
Best served with a scoop of rice and a scoop of Hawaiian Mac Salad.