Asian-Pacific American Month Recipe: Huli Huli Chicken

May is Asian-Pacific American Month, and we here in the food section are pretty excited to spend the month celebrating by eating shave ice, Spam musubi and plate lunch every day. The islands of the Pacific Ocean are the source of some of the best home-style cooking on the planet, so we're going to share a couple of our favorite recipes from the region with you this month.

Huli Huli chicken is by all accounts the circa 1955 invention of a businessman living in Hawaii. Ernest Morgado created the marinade (essentially soy sauce sweetened up with brown sugar and pineapple juice) for a lunch event, and the chicken's been on every party menu in Hawaii since then. You can buy Huli Huli sauce at stores now (and since it's a brand, in the islands you'll see restaurants selling "huli-style" chicken), but there is greater joy in making it from scratch.

This recipe comes from KCET food show America's Test Kitchen, and they advise that while the brine and the glaze can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days, do not brine the chicken for longer than 8 hours or it will become too salty. For the grilling, try to use mesquite chips if you want to go full authentic (kiawe mesquite, even, if you can find it), but this will be delicious no matter what kind of wood is used.

Huli Huli Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
2 quarts water
2 cups soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 split chicken halves (about 8 pounds total) (Split chicken halves are whole chickens that have been split in two through the breastbone. Buy them at the market or prepare them yourself.)

Glaze
3 (6-ounce) cans pineapple juice
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup rice vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic sauce (like Sriracha)
2 cups wood chips, soaked for 15 minutes

Combine water and soy sauce in large bowl. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir into soy sauce mixture. Add chicken and refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Combine pineapple juice, sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and chili-garlic sauce in empty saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick and syrupy (you should have about 1 cup), 20 to 25 minutes.

Seal wood chips in foil packet and cut vent holes in top. Open bottom vents on grill. Light about 75 coals. When coals are covered with fine gray ash, spread evenly over bottom of grill. Arrange foil packet directly on coals. Set cooking grate in place and heat, covered with lid vent open halfway, until wood chips begin to smoke heavily, about 5 minutes. (For gas grill, place foil packet directly on primary burner. Heat all burners on high, covered, until wood chips begin to smoke heavily, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-low.) Scrape and oil cooking grate.

Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange chicken skin-side up on grill (do not place chicken directly above foil packet). Grill, covered, until chicken is well browned on bottom and meat registers 120 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Flip chicken skin-side down and continue to grill, covered, until skin is well browned and crisp and thigh meat registers 170 to 175 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to platter, brush with half of glaze, and let rest 5 minutes. Serve, passing remaining glaze at table.

[Homepage photo courtesy Flickr user newyorkannie]



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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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