Between the ages of 12 and 15, I was fortunate to live in Hawaii. I was a military brat, and my dad was stationed at Hickam AFB on Oahu. During our time there I was introduced to a whole new world of flavor and certainly, Hawaiian food became a favorite.
“Huli” is Hawaiian for “turn”, and huli-huli chicken is essentially a teriyaki chicken cooked on the grill. As the story goes, a man named Ernest Morgado used his grandmother’s teriyaki chicken recipe to grill chicken for a crowd in the 1950s. When the chicken was ready to be flipped, someone would yell “huli!” and the chicken would get turned to the other side. The recipe was so delicious that he quickly had a hit on his hands, and huli-huli chicken was born! Today you can find roadside huli-huli stands all over the Hawaiian islands.
Another Hawaiian staple is Spam®, introduced by mainland military troops during WWII, and I include it in my fried rice for a bit of salty, hammy goodness. I diced the carrots and Spam® so they were about the same size as the peas, and left the pineapple just a bit bigger. Mr. Pants loves pineapple, and it gives the dish a hit of sweet that pairs perfectly with the savoriness of the other ingredients.
Make sure you start with rice you’ve cooked at least the day before. This time in the fridge will help dry out the rice so it doesn’t get soggy. I made mine with brown rice in a nod to eating healthier (a perfunctory nod, like the kind you give someone you kind of recognize but who’s name you can’t remember and really hope they don’t come over and start a conversation), but feel free to use any kind of rice you like. If you make a lot of fried rice, steam a big batch, portion it, and freeze!
Mr. Pants really likes my cooking. Sometimes he even loves it. This was one of those times (insert fist pump here).
Hul-Huli Chicken and Island Fried Rice
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup soy sauce
juice from a large can of pineapple chunks (reserve pineapple for the rice)
1/3 cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
Mix all marinade ingredients in a gallon size sealable baggie; add the chicken and marinade overnight. When ready to begin cooking, remove the chicken to a sheet pan and pat dry; cover with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature, about one hour. Do not throw out that marinade! We’ll be using it in a bit.
Preheat your grill and prepare for indirect heat cooking. (I have a gas grill and I preheat the grill then turn off the two burners in the middle, leaving the outer two burners on high.) Empty the marinade into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the marinade boil for a couple minutes to make sure all the ooky raw chicken badness is killed, turn the heat to low or simmer and let the mix reduce. You should end up with a mixture thick enough to glaze the chicken as it grills. Set the glaze aside.
Grill the chicken, skin side up, on the indirect heat side for about 5 minutes to let the fat begin to render. Turn to the skin side and, still using indirect heat, grill another 20 minutes. Make sure your grill lid is closed while you’re cooking over indirect heat. When the internal temperature of your chicken reaches 150° or so, slather your reserved glaze all over the thighs and move to the direct heat side, turning skin side up. Keep the lid up and keep a close eye on things, as your chicken can easily burn at this point. If you want more char or crispness on your skin, spend a little more time skin down. Huli as needed (I like to yell “HULI” each time. It keeps my neighbors on their toes). Pull the chicken off the grill when internal temperature reaches 160° and let it rest while you finish everything else; it will continue to cook to a safe temperature of 165°.
Meanwhile….. (I like to have all the ingredients for my chicken and rice ready to go before I actually begin any cooking. The rice comes together very quickly and I can concentrate on this while my chicken is cooking on indirect heat.)
Island Fried Rice
2 Tablespoons high-heat oil (I use a stir fry oil)
1 cup carrots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Spam®, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 large can pineapple chunks, sliced in half or quarters
4 cups day-old rice, chilled
2-3 Tablespoons soy sauce, to taste
In a wok or sauté pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the carrots and sauté till they begin to soften. Add the garlic and Spam®, sauté until the garlic is fragrant. Add the peas, pineapple, rice, and soy sauce in Tablespoon increments to taste. Continue to stir until everything is warmed through.