Adventures in Cooking Hawaiian Laulau in a Crockpot

hawaiian laulau in a crockpot

In many ways, Hawaiian food is foreign to mainlanders, but we can all agree that Hawaiian laulau in a crockpot is easy and simple. Just because it’s unusual — odd mostly because we use plants found in our yard — doesn’t mean it is not a very tasty dish. Laulau is really fabulous. It takes 8 hours to steam on low in the crockpot, so a little preplanning is necessary.

The photo above, btw, is something I found online, not my finished dish. I did not take a photo of my Hawaiian laulau in a crockpot because it is not pretty. Doesn’t stop the flavor, though. Don’t let the appearance fool you. The laulau is the rolled leaf package. Nestled with ahi poke, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pork, rice and, of course, macaroni salad. Poi is in the bowl, which is sort of a tasteless pudding, made by pounding steamed taro root with a pestle.

While my husband was visiting last week, I decided to make Hawaiian laulau in a crockpot as a way to welcome him to the islands. There are as many ways to make laulau as there are types of southern barbecue. Lots of variations. And because ancient Hawaiians did not have a crockpot, they buried it in the yard.

Most of our yard is lava rock, so no burying for us. Besides, we have a Costco in Kona, so off we went to buy a crockpot. My husband says only I can walk into Costco to buy a $20 appliance and walk out with a KitchenAid mixer, a new Dyson vacuum cleaner (to replace the Hoover I ruined vacuuming the garage floor) and a kitchen scale. Don’t get me wrong, we got the crockpot, too.

Also, I should mention that to the best of my recollection, I have never before bought nor used a crockpot in my life. Yes, in many ways, I have led a sheltered existence. Had no idea how they worked or that it is basically two settings, four hours on high or eight hours on low. Just plug it in. How easy is that? Our new fancy crockpot even came with a locking lid; however, you absolutely do NOT want to lock the lid when making Hawaiian laulau in a crockpot.

Next, we were off to Taniguchi’s to buy a pork butt shoulder roast, Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt (it is red), and a package of taro leaves, which is sold already bagged in the fresh produce section. Laulau, btw, means leaf, leaf.

The recipe I found online called for lining the crockpot with banana or Ti leaves, which supposedly you can buy frozen. Our neighbor has Ti plants, so we could have “borrowed” a few from her, but the banana leaves would require more traveling. However, you can also cheat the process by using aluminum foil.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

  • 4 pounds of pork butt shoulder roast
  • 3 tablespoons of Hawaiian Alaea salt. (Adjust down if you are sodium sensitive.)
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 8 Ti leaves or banana leaves (or use aluminum foil)
  • Package of fresh taro leaves

If you use Ti or banana leaves, line the crockpot with the shiny side up on the bottom and the sides. You want to create an atmosphere for steaming,

Begin by cutting up 4 to 6 pounds of pork butt shoulder roast into 1 1/2 inch chunks. We used a full 3 tablespoons of red salt but in hindsight, personally, it would have been fine with one tablespoon. Pour in 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and mix the meat with the salt and soy sauce.

Using two taro leaves one on top of the other, place 4 pieces of pork in the center. Fold over and roll up, placing seam side down in the crockpot. Continue until you have stacked all the packets. Pour 1 cup of water over the packets. Then arrange Ti leaves on top (shiny side down) to seal the dish for steaming. Place aluminum foil on top and put the lid on top to keep it secure.

Set the crockpot to low and cook for 8 hours. See, it’s so simple, even a Sacramento Realtor could do it. Serve with a side of steamed brown rice or poi or both.

I brought several packets to my neighbors because this recipe made far more laulau than we could consume. Further, it’s the neighborly thing to do. Surprisingly, our neighbors never tasted laulau. What a treat for them: the pork is so incredibly sweet and moist. You are also supposed to eat the taro leaves with it.

So, what did the neighbors think? Mr. Neighbor said the dish was salty but not “too salty.” Mrs. neighbor loved the laulau but she really enjoys salty things. I readily admit it was too salty for me. My husband liked it and, bottom line, that’s all that really matters.

Elizabeth Weintraub

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