Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fa'alifu Ulu... Cooked Breadfruit in Coconut Milk :)

Ulu or breadfruit is a delicious starch we enjoy throughout the Pacific. You can cook it in an umu, an oven, cook it directly over hot coals, or boil it in water. The simplest way to cook ulu is to boil it in a pot on your stove top. :) That way you don't have to look for firewood, struggle with the flames, and slave over hot coals.

First of all, how to get hold of an ulu. Well, for me, its just a matter of going to my backyard and plucking it off a tree. Yes, ulus grow on ulu trees.

You cannot just pick any old ulu, you have to be very selective. Although ulus are green when picked there are ways to differentiate whether or not one is ready for the picking. When an ulu is too young it is usually a very clean green.

If you notice in the first photo the ulu in the upper right corner is too young. The outer skin of the younger ulu is still smooth and clean. The lower ulu is perfect and ready for cooking. In the second photo I am holding the lower ulu. The skin though green has a yellowish hue to it (not always the case with every ulu). Most importantly, a lot of secretions from the ulu have stained it's skin. That is how I can tell an ulu is ready. Some people don't really care and they pick any ulu that is of good size and cook it, but I find that if you cook an ulu too soon you lose some of that golden sweetness that comes with picking the right ulu.

After picking the perfect ulu, you rinse it off and cut it in half and then cut each half in half. Each time you cut your ulu rinse it so that it doesn't brown like a potato. If it does it's okay but for presentation purposes cut and rinse or put cut pieces in a large bowl of water.

After quartering the ulu you cut off the skin and the core. In Samoa, traditional Samoan cooks scrape the skin off the ulu using the sharp edge of an already scraped coconut shell, or today many use the sharp edge of an opened tin can. For me, either one of those scenarios spells D-a-n-g-e-r, Danger with a capital D :) so I revert to using the most modern method... a nice sharp metal knife.

After you cut off the skin then you cut off the core.

When you are done cutting off the skin and core, cut each quarter into three equal parts and put the pieces into a pot of water for boiling. When the entire ulu is cut up there should be about half an inch of water over the ulu pieces in the pot. If you notice in the last picture, the ulu is not actually covered in water. This is because ulu floats. There is about half an inch to an inch of water under the floating ulu. :)

Turn your stove on high and put the pot of ulu on the stove for boiling. Once it boils turn your stove down to medium high and let the ulu boil for about 10-15 minutes. You can tell that it is cooked by inserting a fork into one of the ulu pieces. Just like a potato, if the fork goes through smoothly it is cooked.

Some people like their ulu cooked until just firm. I personally like my ulu semi firm. I boil it until the fork goes through the ulu like a warm knife through butter.

While your ulu is cooking you prepare the coconut milk that will be added once the ulu is cooked. You take a nice medium sized onion and roughly chop it and place it in a medium sized bowl.

When you are done chopping your onions you then add the coconut milk to the bowl. I am using three cans of coconut milk. You can use just two if you like, however, I prefer my ulu drenched in delicious rich coconut milk so I use a lot.

I am not picky when it comes to the brand of canned coconut milk. Whatever is on sale will do. I do prefer freshly squeezed coconut milk, but that is not always possible, and it is a lot more work :) Here are the three cans I had available in my cupboard. Each is a different brand and there is a difference. Some brands have more cream than others. I am showing you the contents of the can with the most cream inside, the Hawaiian Sun brand.

Before opening the can be sure to let the can sit a while so that the cream and water in the can can separate. Try your best not to shake or move the can unnecessarily as you open it with a can opener. As you can see the cream is very rich. When you pour the can's contents into the bowl with onions you don't want to dump it right in. You pour in as much of the cream as you can without getting much of the water mixed in. Some water will get in, but the least amount of water in the better, your coconut cream will be nice and rich not runny and watery,

Next you want to add some salt. Cup the palm of your hand and pour in some salt. You just kind of eyeball it. Just enough salt so that it doesn't run over the sides of your hands. I would put in a little at a time just to be sure you don't over salt the coconut milk.

Now comes the fun part :) This is the part that gives your fa'alifu it's flavor. After pouring the coconut cream into the bowl, you pour salt into your palm and mix the salt, coconut cream, and onions with your hand. Yes, your lovely tasty hand :) This is how I remember my grandpa doing it and he made the best Samoan food. As you squish the onions, salt, and coconut cream together you integrate the flavor of the onion into the coconut cream and at the same time salt it to perfection. Remember squish release squish release :) Yum! Do this for about 5 minutes. When you are done, set it aside and wait for the ulu to finish cooking.

When the ulu is cooked to your liking. Completely drain the liquid from the pot.

Pour the coconut milk over the cooked ulu distributing it as evenly as possible. Put the pot back on the stove and turn it up to high.

When the coconut milk boils turn the heat down a little below medium high and let it boil for about 3 to 5 minutes. Let the milk boil over the pieces of ulu and then turn the stove off and remove pot from the heat.

Let the fa'alifu ulu cool for about 10 - 15 minutes. The coconut milk will thicken and cling to the ulu pieces. Now it's ready to eat. Just scoop it into a bowl or onto a plate and serve it with your favorite main dish. I love it with a can of wahoo. Yum!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I started this blog to post easy to make Samoan food. I still have to cook and take pictures to post my recipes with how to images.