In Hawaii, kalua turkey or turkey made in an imu (underground oven) is not just for Thanksgiving but Christmas and any other large celebration where you could chow down a couple of 16-pound turkeys. Graduations and weddings are popular eating events when people in Hawaii dig a pit in the backyard, heat lava rocks, gather burlap bags and green til leaves to prepare for the feast. This is also the same way that a pig is prepared for kalua pig or pork, for those who choose not to associate their food with an animal, but that's for another discussion.
This is a long process and not a recipe to be followed by one who is not dedicated to the end results. In addition, unless you live in Hawaii things like Hawaiian Salt and lava rocks aren't easy to find. All that to say, there are modified versions of the original recipe that Hawaii islanders have enjoyed for years. For those who can’t readily get the island lava rocks and salt and/or don’t have or want to dig a hole in the backyard where you have to call the fire department and explain to them and the neighbors why your ground is smoking and what an underground imu is. This recipe comes from a Sara Goo of the Washington Post and her father's connection with the island. It's all about long and slow cooking to break down the meat and have it cook in it's juices.
Kalua Turkey Recipe - Hawaiian taste in a Haole Oven
- 1 1/2 cups coarse sea salt or kosher salt (Hawaiian salt can be ordered online)
- 16-pound fresh turkey, giblets, neck and any other packets removed
- 1/2 cup liquid smoke seasoning, or more as needed
- Water (optional)
- Large heavy duty roasting pan
- Heavy duty foil
- Meat thermometer
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have at hand a roasting pan with rack that fits inside.
Use all of the salt to rub the exterior of the bird, its cavity and gently under the skin as much as possible. Then pour all of the liquid smoke seasoning outside and inside the bird, rubbing it into the skin to spread it evenly. Place the turkey on the rack in the roasting pan; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, until much of the skin is lightly browned and a thermometer inserted into the thigh (but not touching the bone) registers 165 degrees. The turkey should be falling off the bone. Uncover, and let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Add water (to dilute) or a little liquid smoke seasoning (to intensify the flavor) as needed. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm; its consistency will be thin.
Discard all the skin and remove the bones from the turkey, reserving the bones for another use, if desired. Transfer the meat to a separate large pan or casserole dish or platter. Use two forks or your clean hands to shred the turkey to the consistency of pulled pork.
Before serving, pour the heated pan juices over the turkey and toss lightly to coat. Serve warm.
SERVINGS: 16 , WITH LEFTOVERS - great for making Chinese Jook the next day.
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