August has been one heck of a month for Chrystal and I, so much so that we turned around, blinked, and it’s already September! The bulk of last month was spent in anticipation, preparation, and execution of our Third Annual Seafood Boil. In all the seafood boil madness, we had to find time for our next Ethnic Exploration. The original plan for this post was much more ambitious. It involved a variety of recipes, a few of our friends, and a fair share of in-depth planning. Needless to say, this audacious idea required much more time and energy to complete than we had available with all that was going on. Without piling even more onto our plates, we had to head back to drawing board in pursuit of something a little more simple. And that’s when we landed in Hawaii.
A dear, mutual friend of ours, Ralphie, just returned from the 50th state after a week of work/playtime on the island of Oʻahu. He graciously brought me back some goodies from his trip, including the obligatory box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts–only these were also coated with Rice Krispies– and a small bag of li hing mui powder, a pinkish-orange colored powder derived from plums that the locales sprinkle over fruit, candies, even some alcoholic beverages. Li hing mui has a distinct flavor profile with an interesting mix of sweet, sour, and salty. I thought we could make something with the li hing mui for a Hawaiian Ethnic Exploration. As we started our research, Chrystal suggested something different all together–loco moco. Even though loco moco doesn’t incorporate li hing mui, we decided it was a go to make the moment our friend Ralphie shared his love for the Hawaiian dish. “Oh-my-God, it’s sooooo good,” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
Loco moco, which literally means “crazy snot” in Spanish, is comprised of a hamburger patty that rests on top of a bed of white rice. It’s all smothered in gravy and then topped off with a fried egg. “It’s all about the hamburger steak and the way you season it,” Ralphie said. “You want to taste and see chunks of onion in the burger, and the gravy compliments it all.” He went on to say the white rice is just, well, white rice, so it isn’t the most important element of the dish. His favorite part of the dish, though, hands down is the gravy. “It’s gravy!” You just can’t have loco moco without a healthy serving of some savory fresh gravy. Ralphie also went on to say that in his opinion, one that is commonly shared with the locals, the best loco moco on the island can be found at the Rainbow Drive-In, which was featured on both food shows Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Man vs. Food.
Ralphie is one of the many who have visited Hawaii as a tourist, but what about the locals? Chrystal had dinner at Roy’s Restaurant, and she chatted with the chef–a Hawaii native. One of the first dishes that he mentioned as a must have was loco moco. It’s a hometown dish, one of those everywhere-you-go dishes. It’s also a breakfast favorite. How often do you have the opportunity to eat a hamburger for breakfast? Because the gravy is the all-star, there is room to play with the protein. If you assumed Spam would find its way in the equation, you would be right. You might even find Portuguese sausage, bacon or kalua pork under that egg. Some restaurants serve fried shrimp on the side, others offer macaroni salad. You may even find fried rice as a substitution for the traditional white grain. Don’t pish posh this mish mosh of a meal. It has a variety of presentations. You can use our recipe as a guide, but there are so many ways to make it your own. For example, the two chefs behind LA’s Animal serves a fried quail egg over foie gras, Spam and a beef patty. Intense.
There are only four components to this dish–rice, burger, gravy and egg–so it is an easy one to make for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can season the beef as desired, as long as its flavorful. Use the same pan to start the gravy of course, and you are guaranteed a strong base for a rich sauce. As Ralphie said, it’s all about that gravy! Play around with the eggs as well. If you prefer your’s poached or scrambled, that’s quite alright, but let’s be honest. A runny egg makes most dishes that much better.
Chrystal and I hope to make it to the Aloha state in the near future. We’ll make sure to stop by the popular Rainbow Drive-in, but do let us know if you know of another great food joint that serves up a mean plate of loco moco. We’ll be happy to do detailed comparison while on vacation. In the meantime, we’ll have to enjoy a piece of paradise at home.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- Grapeseed oil, for frying
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 - 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 4 large eggs
- Cooked rice, kept warm
- Sliced scallions, optional
- 1. In a medium bowl, mix the beef, 1/4 cup of the onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper until combined. Shape into four even patties.
- 2. Heat a drizzle of grapeseed oil in a frying pan over a medium high flame. Once the pan is ready, add the four beef patties and cook for approximately 3-5 minutes on one side. Flip and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until your preferred level of doneness. Slide the patties onto a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven.
- 3. In the same pan used to cook the beef, add the remaining onions and turn the flame down to medium. Drizzle a tiny bit more oil in the pan if necessary to prevent any sticking. Cook the onions, stirring as necessary, for 5-7 minutes or until they begin to turn translucent and begin to brown.
- 4. Add the flour to the onions and stir. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Pour in the beef broth, stirring all the while, 1/2 a cup at a time up to 2 cups of liquid. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the gravy for about 2-4 minutes or until it thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
- 5. In a separate large pan over medium heat, drizzle a bit more oil over the surface. Once hot, crack each egg in the pan and fry as desired--either sunny side up or over easy--seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
- 6. To assemble the plate, spoon gravy over a serving of cooked rice and top with one of the beef patties. Place a fried egg over the meat and sprinkle with scallions.
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