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Liquid smoke key to perfect Kalua pork

Today is a day to be reckoned with. Yes, it’s what I call a “Hawaii Day,” a day on which I weigh the pros and cons in my head of getting a permit at $3 per day to camp on the north coast of Kauai for a few months. With just a little money in the bank, I could walk about the island, hitting the trails, snorkeling, surfing, fishing and theoretically cooking on the campfire every night.
While this might not sound fun to a lot of people, it sounds like a much-needed respite from our day-to-day life at warp speed. I’d probably leave my phone on the mainland as well. Just a full month of disconnecting to clear the mind. Yeah, I think I could go for that.
Of course, with too many things to take care of in what I term “reality,” I have to satiate my wanderlust by watching WSL videos of surfing competitions in the Islands and by preparing dishes that remind me of my limited time in the Aloha State. The foods of Hawaii are notable in that they reach just far enough into Asian cuisine so as to entice our culinary inquisitiveness and excite our taste buds.
Of course, it helps when our last day of the semester in “American Regional Cuisine” is Hawaii; I get to eat a lot of the foods that I love, relive some memories and tweak out one of my favorite recipes as I like to.
When we first visited the islands about eight years ago, it was a frightfully difficult trip with our four kids, my elderly mother and my aunt. Hammering out the 16-hour venture in one fell swoop, we were exhausted by the time that we reached our hotel in South Kona. The concierge wasn’t particularly helpful that day, and my aunt and I were sent on the task to “just find anything.” After about 20 minutes of nothing but $20 pizza, we were at wits end.
And then it happened. I turned the corner to see a restaurant whose name was not on the marquis. But, it was a name that had popped up quite a bit in my research: L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. As we were ready to tell ourselves that we could go hungry the first night on the island, it was as if the spirits had guided us to that very spot.
We went inside, afraid that they were closing, but we had plenty of time … so we ordered a mountain of food. Cooked in a very short period of time, in less than an hour we were eating at the condo, Kona Brewing Co. beers in hand, and all of a sudden we went from “this was a mistake” to “OK, this was a good call,” all by a simple meal.
Part of that meal was the Kalua pork, the stuff of legends that is pretty much shredded pork with liquid smoke. I hate to put a damper on things, but that’s pretty much what it is. And that’s OK, because I love it nonetheless. And on a day like today, when I need a good “taste” of Hawaii, I can always count on Kalua pork to transport me back to lava rock and the salty trade winds. It’s just what I need on a “Hawaii Day.”

Kalua Pork Egg Roll

Makes 12 rolls
12 Egg roll wrappers
18 ounces Shredded pork
Liquid smoke, as needed
1 Tbsp. Sesame oil
2 cups Napa Cabbage, shredded
2 cups Red cabbage, shredded
1 inch Fresh ginger
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 tsp. Sesame seeds
1/4 cup Dry white wine
2 tsp. Ponzu sauce
Soy, as needed
1 whole egg

I typically have pulled pork left over from family dinners, so I freeze it until such a time that I need it
The secret to Kalua pork is the (gasp) liquid smoke. I couldn’t believe it when I visited Hawaii for the first time years ago, but it is what it is. Simply add liquid smoke until you have reached that memory bank in your mind which has you seated on lava rock overlooking the Kailua-Kona harbor
Heat sesame oil on a medium flame and add the cabbages and cook for about three minutes
Add the ginger garlic, sesame seeds and cook for another three minutes or so
Add the white wine and reduce and then add the ponzu
You might be done here, but check the flavoring. You may adjust with soy sauce as you see fit. If you want to adjust with more ponzu, feel free
Break the egg into a bowl and mix, having a pastry brush at the ready
Lay out your work station so that you have wrappers, egg wash, pork and then cabbage mixture
Lay the wrapper so that a point is close to you. Brush the outside liberally with egg, and pile it neatly with pork and cabbage, ensuring that all of your edges are cleared
Neatly fold the roll like a tight little burrito, making sure that there are no seams into which copious amounts of oil can sneak in
Once you have wrapped your egg rolls, simply fry until golden brown, or use an “air fryer” for a few minutes until they are crispy on the outside
Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice