Why Hello There, and welcome once again to Kitchen Catastrophes, one man’s pursuit of culinary cataclysm and taste Tartarus, I’m your ostensible Orpheus for the day, Jon O’Guin, and I’ll warn you right now, I don’t fuck with Hades, so if you die, I am NOT coming for you. Today’s dish, despite by trifecta of Grecian references last sentence, is actually from Hawaii, which isn’t QUITE the exact opposite side of the world, since the exact opposite of Greece is actually a couple hundred miles off the shores of New Zealand, but it’s pretty near by. In the sense that the Pacific ocean has thousands of miles of Jack and Shit, so almost anything in it is only relatable to things hundreds of miles away.
Today we’re making Loco Moco, a semi-traditional Hawaiian dish (we’ll get to that), made in the style of a fat rude New Yorker (we’ll also get to that), made literally hours ago, while Jon almost cried in frustration (we won’t get to that, because let’s be honest, like, a quarter of his posts nowadays are entitled white middle class male whining, so let’s all just skip it). Now, let’s waste no more of our time, and dive right in, starting with the recipe’s author, Kenny Shopsin.
A Tip-Top Chop Shop for Cheap Slop
It took me far too long to think of a joke that used the word “Shop” that wasn’t just a musical reference. BUT WE SAID I WOULDN’T GET TO WHINE, so let’s ignore that failure.
Kenny Shopsin is, in some ways, a beautiful man. He’s an old rude Jew who runs a restaurant in New York, where the staff is known to pour soup on the customers, and Kenny will literally close the restaurant hours early if he doesn’t like the kind of people who are showing up to eat. A simply marvelous study in dedicated dickishness. And, as is often the case with such people, it comes from a kind of great place of love.
Kenny’s drive in running his restaurant is to make good food for his customers, in a sort of medieval definition. Not of “Good” or “food”, both of which would have been disturbingly insect-laden, but of “customer”. See, Kenny doesn’t want CONSUMERS at his restaurants, he wants CUSTOMERS, a word with a surprisingly rough/broad etymology. To skip over our typical dive into Latin ambiguity, let us condense it to this: you are a true customer only when the place is of your routine. When the salesman knows your face, your worries, and your preferences.
"Jon, please stop rambling about Latin declensions and order your goddamn food."
Shopsin’s, which is actually the name of Shopsin’s restaurant, had, at one point, over 900 items on the menu. IT may have that many right now, as the menu changes essentially weekly. And from the very start, it was formed and shaped by his customers. His first menu included Frito pie solely because a local Texan asked him to make it. A wide swath of his sandwiches are named for the people that order them, or ordered things like them.
I would talk more about the man, but I actually am cooking another recipe of his later, so I can’t blow my literary indulgence wad just yet. Rest assured, we’ll learn more about him and his business later. For now, let’s read his description of Loco Moco, in the cookbook he semi-reluctantly wrote:
“This is a Hawaiian dish—or at least it’s a Hawaiian name. Actually, I have no idea about its origins, I just know what it is.”
Luckily for Kenny, I DO know about it’s origins, so let’s jump in, shall we?
Because Maui can Do Anything But Float
Now, if you’ve been reading for more than a few months, you may recall my American Cuisine Culinary compendium post. If you don’t, well, it’s linked LITERALLY right there, so check it out. Or don’t, because this is a blog, so I have no authority over you, at least until the Internet Content Creator revolution strikes! Which is likely never, because most Internet Content Creators still react to sunlight worse than Vampires in a Blade movie.
Markiplier's California Campaign had some violent issues.
Anywho, in the post, I bring up the idea that Hawaiian food has a fascinating system of culinary ‘waves’. The first Polynesian settlers brought a bunch of crops and animals, and had their traditions, which were impacted by the foods brought by European explorers and colonists, who then hired Asian immigrants to work the plantations, who brought their foods and techniques, until finally America…let’s generously say “Acquired” the islands, and eventually made them a state, which really didn’t impact the culinary scene until around 1941, for reasons no one can really recall.
December 7, 1941, A day that will be mostly forgotten, nothing really important going on, to be honest.
Yeah, World War 2 is when America REALLY actually remembered that Hawaii was a state, and that time period wreaked some big changes on the island’s culinary palate. Fishing was forbidden, so the military had to import protein for the people to cover the nutritional deficit. This created the Hawaiian love for Spam. Further, American GIs and their families wanted typical American foods, which lead to some innovations.
One of these innovations was the Loco Moco, invented several years AFTER the war, actually. Which is why I called it “Semi-traditional”. Modern America has this problem where we don’t actually know what ‘traditional’ means, especially in political/cultural spheres. We have this sort of cultural amnesia where none of us like actually talking to our parents or grandparents about what things were like when they were younger, so our generational memory is super short. People today defend things invented in 50’s and 60’s, dates so recent MY OWN FATHER is older than them, as being sacrosanct icons of American culture. While I would love to discuss this, we’re already at 900 words, and my personal political leanings mean my examples will naturally skew toward confirming my own biases, so why waste time with “Liberal White Guy Explains Gun Control part 6,875,932,008”? Instead, let’s get to the actual FOOD!
An important distinction
Loco Moco is believed to have been invented, in essence, by 1940’s teenagers. Specifically, while hanging out at a local restaurant, they wanted something LIKE a sandwich (cheap, easy to make/eat, and quick.) but, you know, cooler. They suggested a bowl of rice with a hamburger patty placed on top, covered with brown gravy. Later, the restaurant owners would add a fried egg on top. And thus the Loco Moco was born!
It looked like this, but with some Stank on it.
So, when you look at it, it’s a pretty simple dish. But one of my favorite quotes from The Dresden Files is the reminder that “Simple” is not always the same as “Easy.” Lifting a heavy object is SIMPLE task, but no one would argue that hoisting 500 pounds over one’s head is EASY. This was a fact FULLY explored in this recipe.
So, the only real difference Kenny’s recipe has from any other Loco Moco I’ve ever seen is that his gravy is heavily flavored by fried onions. So to make this meal, you need to:
1. Cook 4 cups of rice.
2. Fry 4 hamburger patties.
3. Fry 4 onions to a crisp
4. Make brown gravy
And 5. Fry 4 eggs.
I ran out of pan space 3 steps ago.
Now, of course this works easier in a restaurant, where your deep fryer is already hot and self-contained, and your griddle is certainly wide enough for 4 burger patties and 4 fries. In our house, this lead to the meal needing 4 burners, AND the rice cooker. And since most ovens are about30” wide, and I am literally 24” across, this means that if I’m cooking, I’m doing it mostly alone.
But, again, every part of the process is simple. Like, for example, the onion: throw sliced onion into hot oil, pull it out when it’s charred around the edges. That’s a real easy process to explain. Now, DOING that, in a 4 cup saucepan on a back burner because you need the other burners for the bigger foods, while the oil bubbles over and flares up with little licks of flame, is a different beast, emotionally speaking. Especially when 4 thinly sliced onions is a goddamn mountain, and you can only cook like, 1/5th of an onion at a time.
The results aren't exactly heartening, either.
But eventually you work the mountain down to something reasonable, so you make the brown gravy, which is “Make a roux, then pour beef stock in, cook until thick.” Barely 3 minutes of actual work! Now, because I entrusted this task to Nate, who is a self-professed novice in the kitchen, some slight mistakes were made. Namely, we didn’t let the roux cook long enough to kill off the raw flour taste. So I threw in some beef bouillon cubes and called it fine. Like Mistress Laras, I know when a Novice is doing well enough. (Ooooh, that’s that DEEP Wheel of Time shit up in here, son!)
I was going to put some Wheel of Time art here, then thought "Will I get sued for that?", to which my brain responded "I mean, Jordan's been dead for 5 years now, so it's not like he'll care." And then I had made myself sad.
Fry your burgers, fry your eggs, and throw all them crispy onions in the gravy. Plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a – wait, wrong jingle. Just plop down some rice, slap that patty on top, then, PERSONALLY, I’d put the gravy, and then the egg, but by this point the goddamn onions had taken like, 40 minutes, and everyone was hot, tired, and at the end of a long day, so someone else assembled the towers, and I just poured the gravy over them.
Is this the best looking Loco Moco I've ever seen?
God no. This unholy creation may be a blight upon the earth, a scar on life's grand beauty.
Tasted pretty good, though.
How were they? Pretty damn good. The only real issue was I undercooked two of the burgers (my own fault, I fiddled with the heat of the pan and didn’t account for it) so two people had some rather pink insides. Some would call them “raw”, but those people aren’t French.
In any case, I count the recipe a success. Going forward, I would definitely look into ways to pre-do or minimize the onion time, as that was the big stressor, and the biggest time sink. If you have the onions already fried, this could be a 10 minute meal. Without that step, it took almost an hour. But get your ducks in a row before you go, and you…can…. Nope. Didn’t have an end to that. Damn it.
THURSDAY: JON WRITES ABOUT ANOTHER RECIPE HE’S STOLEN FROM HAWAII. YEAH, I KNOW WE DON’T NORMALLY DO RECIPES ON THURSDAYS, BUT HE’S HYPED UP ON FALAFAL, AND WANTS TO GET MORE INTO THE WHOLE “CULINARY WAVES” OF HAWAII.
4 cups cooked white rice
1.5-1.75 lbs ground beef, preferably 80-20
4 large eggs
4 large sweet onions, sliced thin
1 stick butter
1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 cups beef stock
1. Fry the onions. Just have a hot deep-fryer, or a sauce pan with 2-3 inches of oil, and put a handful of onions in. (it helps if you put about a quarter of the handful, then another quarter, etc, rather than all at once, which makes it more likely to boil over) Fry each batch until greatly reduced in size and charred at the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon, and dry on paper towels.
2. Once the onions are nearing completion, Cook the burgers. Form the ground beef into 4 patties, between 6-7 ounces each, about as wide as a hamburger bun. Take a cast-iron skillet, and leave it on high heat for at least 5 minutes. Then, add the burgers, cooking for 5-6 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.
3. Make the gravy: in a large skillet, melt the butter over high heat. Add the flour, and whisk thoroughly. Let cook for about 1-2 minutes, to remove the raw flour taste, and then add the beef stock. Stir to combine, and cook for about 1 minute. Then you can remove from heat, and let rest until ready to serve.
4. Fry the eggs, cooking on one side until whites are opaque, then flipping and cooking for roughly 40 seconds. Add the fried onions to the gravy, and stir to incorporate.
5. Assemble the dish: put a cup of rice in a bowl or on a plate, place the hamburger patty on top, and then the fried egg. Cover with 1/4 of the onion gravy, and serve hot.