Jan 3, 2012

Hawaiian Pahole Fern

Hawaiian Pahole Fern
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Hawaii chefs consider pahole fern to be a measure of how serious a restaurant is about using locally sourced vegetables. The Hawaiian Pahole fern defines todays island cuisine. On the mainland this delicious fern is known as fiddlehead fern, but fiddlehead fern is different in that it is a bit dryer and needs longer cooking time. The delicate Hawaiian variety just needs to be blanched for 30 seconds in salted water, cooled in cold water and they are ready to eat in salads or used as a garnish. 

The Hawaiian variety grown on Maui and Moloka'i is known as Pahole fern. On the Big Island it is known as Hō‘i‘o, the Japanese call it warabi, and the Filipinos call it pack. Regardless of what it is called, it is a wetland vegetable found in the higher-altitude rain forests of our islands all year. There is only about a two-week window for picking pahole, since the tight spiral ends of the fern begin to unfurl after about 14 days. The plants stalks typically grow to about four feet tall, and their six-inch frond tips are edible only during a two-week phase in the plant's life cycle. Once picked, the pahole is quite delicate and has a limited shelf life of 5 to 7 days. It should be wrapped in wet paper towels and plastic wrap, then refrigerated up to preparation time; pahole quickly lose their vibrant green color and become dull and unappetizing. Check out this video by Chef Raja. 

Annette English, 
Pahole farmer on Moloka'i
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On Moloka'i, pahole fern is sold by local growers. like so many local foods including venison, goat, lobster, opihi, and reef fish, you have to know the people who grow, hunt, or fish for it in order to get it. My friend Annette English sells her Pahole salad out of the back of her car twice a month, with her daughters, in a lot next to American Savings Bank in Kaunakakai. If you live on Moloka'i or are a visitor and want to try this local delicacy, give Annette a call at 336-0151. As you can tell by her sign, she sells her freshly picked fern by itself, or you can buy her pahole salad, with tomatoes, onions, cuttlefish and dry opae (red shrimp) for $10.00, or a deluxe salad with opihi, tomatoes onions, cuttlefish and dry opae. This is a real local treat. 

Pahole fern has high levels of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, as well as potassium and fiber. It is usually made into a delicious and unusually crunchy salad (recipe below) that is often served at potluck dinners or luau's here on Moloka'i. The ferns flavor reminds me of asparagus and is truly a delicious Hawaiian salad!

Pahole (Fern) Salad
Moloka'i locals usually make this fern salad with local fish like tenderized ophi, local marinated sliced octopus, or cuttlefish. Top Hawaii chefs will add cooked lobster or scallops to the salad.

Ingredients for salad:
Hawaiian Pahole Fern Salad
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1 big bunch of 'pahole' (1 1/2 pounds)

3 pounds of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 Maui onion, chopped (or red onion)
1 cup of carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 cup of red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 pound of kimchi marinated sliced octopus
1 watermelon radish for garnish
sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for dressing:
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1/3 cup of olive oil or macadamia nut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons fish sauce (Patis), or 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Wash the fern thoroughly. Break the ends off of the fern like you would raw asparagus to find the tender part of the stim, then cut fern into 3/4-inch pieces. Blanch the fern in salted boiling water along with the carrots, red pepper and onion until "crisp tender" for about 30 seconds, then drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, drain the vegetables, gently blot with paper towels and place in a bowl, then refrigerate.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together the vinegar and lime juice, oil, honey, fish sauce, and black pepper to taste. Gently stir the dressing and pour it over the fern and other vegetables. Cover and chill for one hour. Taste the salad for additional seasoning if needed, then garnish with octopus pieces, watermelon radishes and sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.

Note: The watermelon radishes used as a garnish in this salad came from my friend Stefani Bush, who sells her plants, vegetables and many other tasty things at our Saturday Farmers Market here on Moloka'i in the corner lot next to American Savings. For watermelon radish recipes and more info on them, click here.

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