Wednesday, February 14, 2001
home page local news opinion business island life sports
The Great Index to Fun
Island Sounds
Book Reviews
Faith Calendar
Hawaii Ways
Restaurant Reviews
AP Arts & Leisure
Ohana Announcements
Weddings and Engagements
How to Get Listed
Classified Ads
Restaurant Guide
Business Directory

Posted on: Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Island Pantry
Island curries reflect elaborate labor and love of ancestors

By Kaui Philpotts
Special to The Advertiser

An assortment of condiments is essential to a curry supper. Some examples are mango chutney, chopped green onions, grated coconut, chopped candied ginger, and chopped banana or apple.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Once a popular Island approach to entertaining, curry suppers still make sense.

Curries, those pungent stews made of everything imaginable, from shrimp and lamb, to chicken and beef, have over the years become a mainstay on Island tables. Plate-lunch kitchens sell hamburger curry or curry stew and rice. Indian, Japanese and Thai restaurants have their own particular curry flavors and cooking methods. But today we are going to explore the curry made in Hawaii in kamaaina kitchens in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, and served either as leftovers after special occasions, or for company dinners.

Many kamaaina haole have fond memories of a mother’s or grandmother’s curry dinners. Sometimes they came the day after the "Sunday leg of lamb," or the holiday turkey. At other times, elaborate chicken or seafood curries were made for dinner parties and served with homemade mango chutney, baked bananas and all the condiments. Plain white rice, never saffron or jasmine (much too fancy), was always plentiful.

One friend remembers that her grandmother’s curry took a day and a half to make. In the days before frozen or canned coconut milk, Island curry was almost always made by first grating and then extracting the coconut milk for the sauce. If the meat used was not left over from another meal, it had to be prepared first. Such was the case with chicken curry, which began by steaming or boiling a whole chicken, deboning the chicken meat, and then returning the bones to the water to be cooked further to make a rich stock base.

In "Maui Cookery," (published by the Maui Publishing Co. and revised in 1944), an entire chapter is dedicated to the nuances of Island curries. Editor Frances Wadsworth writes, " . . . do not ever just add a couple of spoonfuls of curry powder to a gravy and feel that you have a curry. Curries are not made that way."

She goes on to say that, "curry is one dish that should be done carefully, or not at all. Lukewarm or inadequate sauce, or lack of proper accompaniments can ruin it."

Coconutty Island seafood and chicken curries almost always began with the sauce and meat prepared separately and blended at the last moment. The famous Willows Restaurant curry was made this way. There is little doubt that curries made a day ahead and reheated taste best because the flavors have had a chance to meld. Remember not to add any salt to this type of curry until it is finished and ready to be served. Also, do not reheat at too high a temperature, or you risk curdling.

An assortment of condiments is essential to a curry supper. Ruth Pratt, who operated the once-popular Manoa bistro Cafe Brio recalls a lazy susan at her family’s table, "with red anthuriums at the center and at least eight different condiments surrounding them."

She remembers the hard-cooked eggs especially, because they were not merely chopped, but put through a fine food mill so that they came out in pieces so small they were "like a cloud."

There was always the mango chutney (Major Grey’s, if not your own homemade version), crisp bacon bits, chopped green onions, chopped peanuts or macadamia nuts, grated or peeled and toasted coconut, chopped candied ginger, small wedges of lime, raisins and chopped banana or apple.

Often, cooking bananas were baked and then served while still in their skins. Other popular accompaniments were bananas, skinned and placed in a shallow baking dish and topped with guava jelly, or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before baking.

The old-fashioned rice pudding we share below is a dessert typical of the time.

Hawaiian Shrimp Curry

Curry sauce:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium round onion, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 pieces fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 or more tablespoons curry powder or curry paste (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup or more low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked shrimp

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion, garlic and ginger and saute until aromatic. Add the curry powder or paste and the brown sugar. Stir for about 1 minute, until the curry aroma is released. Add the flour and stir until slightly cooked, another minute or so. Gradually add the coconut milk, stirring constantly. If the sauce is too thick, add the chicken broth until it is the consistency you like. Do not heat too much, which will cause the coconut milk to separate.

Add the cooked shrimp, or a combination of crab, scallops or lobster and heat through. Cool and allow to rest. May be refrigerated and reheated the next day. Serves 4. (Note: This curry sauce, without the shrimp, can be poured over warm laulau for an entirely different type of dinner.)

Rice Pudding With Pistachios

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 3/4 cup jasmine rice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 green cardamom pods* (available at health food stores) lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup shelled natural pistachios
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

In a heavy pot, simmer the milk, rice, sugar and cardamom pods until liquid is reduced by half, stirring often, for about 45 minutes. Discard the cardamom. In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Cook the pistachios and raisins in the butter until the nuts are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir half the pistachio and raisin mixture into the rice pudding and pour into individual glasses or cups. Top with the remaining pistachios and raisins. Serves 6.

*A whole vanilla bean can be substituted for the cardamom pods.

[back to top]

Home | Local News | Opinion | Business | Island Life | Sports
Index to Fun | Island Sounds | Book Reviews | Faith Calendar
Hawaii Ways | Taste

How to Subscribe | How to Advertise | Site Map | Terms of Service | Corrections

© COPYRIGHT 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.