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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Moi will star at Native Hawaiian fund-raiser dinner

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Tim Tamashiro of Tamashiro Market displays moi, a fish once reserved solely for Hawai'i's royalty, but now being raised in quantity in offshore cages.

Advertiser library photo • Aug. 1996

Nahokupa, a Gathering of Stars

Gala fund-raiser for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., a non-profit law firm dedicated to preservation of Native Hawaiian culture and resources

Dinner by 14 Island chefs; celebration of Auntie Genoa Keawe's 85th birthday, with Keawe, Raiatea Helm, keiki hula and the trio of Martin Pahinui, George Ku'o and Aaron Mahi

Nov. 22, Bishop Museum Great Lawn

4 p.m. champagne reception (for corporate tables only); 5 p.m. opening

Tickets: $150 per person; corporate tables $2,500 to $7,500

Reservations: 521-2302

Not too many years ago, moi was impossible to buy in stores and rare on fishing lines, too.

The once-plentiful Pacific threadfin, Polydactylus sexfilis, had become scarce through overfishing and loss of the stone-lined aquaculture ponds in which traditional Hawaiians raised this and other seafood. It was available only during seasonal fishing periods, and the take increasingly was regulated.

Today, moi is again readily available — though not inexpensive — through the efforts of firms such as Cates International, which is raising moi in submerged cages three miles off the 'Ewa coast, harvesting about 5,000 pounds of the delicious fish each week.

It's appropriate, then, that moi should be among the prized indigenous foods served at an upcoming fund-raiser for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., a private nonprofit law firm that works to preserve Native Hawaiian resources, including fishing and gathering rights. Farmers on East Maui will be donating kalo (taro) for chefs to prepare at the Nov. 22 event, which also serves as a celebration of Auntie Genoa Keawe's 85th birthday.

Ronald Nasuti, executive chef of Roy's Restaurant in Hawai'i Kai, is preparing Asian pesto-steamed moi — steamed and sizzled fish topped with a sauce of shoyu, shallots, ginger, green onions, cilantro and garlic, brewed the day before, then drizzled over the hot fish just before serving.

Nasuti said his whole staff have gone out to Cates' sea-farm operation, donning snorkeling gear to dive to the two hidden cages.

"It's not like some of the controversial fish farming around the world. It's very clean out to sea like that. And since it's not grown on the reef, ciguatera's not an issue. You can eat it raw — we make sashimi, carpaccio, sushi with it. You can steam it. It holds well — you really can't undercook it or overcook it. It's just a pleasure to work with," said Nasuti.

The ocean-raised moi is prized for its light taste, white flesh and relatively firm texture. It is generally sold whole but cleaned; it can be steamed, pan-fried or baked. The fish sells for $6 to $7 a pound at retail.

Much has been made of the fact that moi once was farmed solely for consumption by royalty; it's said that a maka'ainana (commoner) found eating moi would be summarily killed. Luckily, that's no longer the case.

Chef Hiroshi Fukui, who was traveling and couldn't be reached for this story, also is preparing moi for the event — in his case, a light soup of clams and moi. Fukui is a fan of the fish; his steamed moi with basil pesto has been a signature dish, and he serves a seared sashimi-style moi, too.

Goran Streng, the chef-coordinator for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. event, is not a great fan of pond-raised moi but thinks ocean-raised moi is beautiful. "The flesh is completely different. It's very nice and firm-feeling and fatty, and it fillets nicely, it doesn't tear or get mushy," Streng said.

At home, he likes to fillet the fish, being careful to remove the few pin bones, then lightly dredge it in seasoned flour, saute it quickly and serve it with a little caper butter. He's even made a sort of fish and chips with moi, deep-frying fillets for 30 seconds and serving them with french fries and chili pepper water.

What follows isn't Nasuti's dish — for that, you'll need to attend the fund-raiser. But here's a similar preparation, easily made at home.

Chinese-style Moi

  • 1 whole, cleaned moi
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1-inch slice ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro (Chinese parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup shoyu
  • 1 tablespoon each sesame oil and peanut oil
  • Cilantro and green onions for garnish

To make sauce (may be prepared in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered, overnight, and brought to room temperature before use): Saute green onions, ginger, garlic and cilantro in 1 teaspoon peanut oil until flavors are released. Add shoyu and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer 2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

Steam the moi over simmering water in a covered Chinese basket or other steaming arrangement until fish reaches desired doneness (opaque and flaky if you like your fish well done; pearly and just beginning to flake if you prefer it more moist). Drain the fish and carefully remove it to a warm platter. You may wish to place ti leaves, chopped cabbage or a bed of sauteed vegetables on the platter.

Heat wok until very hot; add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and peanut oil and heat to bubbling. Pour flavored oil over the fish so that the flesh sizzles, then drizzle shoyu over fish and serve immediately. Garnish with slivered green onions and cilantro leaves.