It’s already the final third of March and not only have I failed to put up a blog post this month until today, I haven’t even gone through and processed more than a couple of the photos I took while we were in Hilo for our New Year’s vacation. Ugh. WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?!?!

At any rate, I wasn’t doing nothing all this time.

For example, I cooked this thing called an “Oven-Ready Deli Roll.” (OK, I confess: I actually made it last month, and therefore have been procrastinating on this, too.)

The mystery item: Frank’s Foods “Oven-Ready Deli Roll.” © 2015 Sugar + Shake

I’ve seen these before, but only when we go to Hilo. (Or, I dunno, maybe I just don’t inspect our regular grocery store’s meat section that carefully since I don’t really buy meat there.) This time, though, I demanded to know what it was. The “deli roll” distinction was what I couldn’t understand. What IS a deli roll? Why’s it called that? It’s not like it’s rolled up…nor from a deli. Shake didn’t have an answer other than he vaguely remembered his mom making them when he was a kid; he thinks she used to cook it in a pan and slice it, but his memories were awfully fuzzy. So I texted my go-to, old-school-kine food experts, Arnold Hiura (one of my authors) and Derek Kurisu (also one of my authors and the vice-president of KTA Super Stores). My text included a photo and read, “What is this; what do I do with it; and why is it a Hilo thing?”

KTA, where I found these porcine packages, is where we shop when we’re in Hilo. (And so does everyone and their mother, literally.) So I figured Derek better have some answers for me. He did deliver, eventually, but Arnold’s wife, Elo, was much faster at replying. First there was the sassy reply, “You cook it!” to which I responded, “Yeah, but how? What is it supposed to taste like?”

The mystery item: Frank’s Foods “Oven-Ready Deli Roll.” © 2015 Sugar + Shake

Elo elucidated, “It’s like corn beef, or ham. Great with cabbage. I boil it in water; don’t rinse it, just put enough water to cover, bring to a boil then lower to simmer…about an hour or more until tender. Then add cabbage or carrots, onion, celery until the veggies are tender too. You can slice it and plate with veggies.”

OK, then. Simultaneously, I had posted the photo on Facebook where I was given the direction to “bake it. Very tasty!” from a former Kona resident. Arnold’s contribution to the conversation was, “It’s foolproof (no offense intended)…”

Shake was not enthused about the idea of “boiled meat.” (He calls anything that involves liquid in a pot, plus meat, “boiled meat,” even if it’s not.) I had to agree. The baked option sounded better. By this time, you should know, we had already bought the thing just for the sake of experimenting with it. And also because friend, neighbor and my eternal guinea pig @Melissa808 insisted I buy one and bring it home. (I told her she was now compelled to help us eat two pounds of pork. No matter how it tasted.)

And it would’ve been baked Deli Roll for us, had we not run into Derek and made plans for lunch together. Since I now had him cornered, I forced him to enlighten me on the whole Deli Roll concept. The product is, basically, a seasoned (the package label says “cured”) pork shoulder (aka “butt,” even though it’s not from the butt area, it’s from the shoulder—why is food so confusing?). But for reasons that escape me, it can’t be sold under that name, so the moniker “Deli Roll” was bestowed upon it. Both Frank’s Foods (an established Big Island meat company) and KTA, under their own house label, Mountain Apple Brand, offer the Oven-Ready Deli Roll. (We bought the Frank’s Foods brand because Shake likes their Portuguese sausage best, so he thought he would like their seasoning better.)

Derek advised that I wrap the Deli Roll in lū‘au leaf (taro leaves)—no one really ever says “lū‘au leaves,” it’s always leaf, even though it’s plural—and steam it in a slow cooker for about six hours, with just enough water to keep it all moist (so about an inch or so). “It’s like the most ‘ono laulau!” he said.

Lū‘au leaf does not come in small bags. I used maybe six (I should’ve used more, but I’m not the hugest fan of it—it tastes like cooked spinach) and had so much left over. There should be a book, 1001 Uses for Lū‘au Leaf, to help people like me because I can only think of one: laulau.

Laulau-wrapping skills need some work... © 2015 Sugar + Shake

My laulau wrapping skills stink. Skilled folks are somehow able to wrap these suckers without string, folding up neat little packages. Usually you steam laulau wrapped inside ti leaves, which makes it easier to keep the whole bundle together without string, but I didn’t have any handy so I did it the sad way, with string.

Wrapped and ready for steaming. © 2015 Sugar + Shake

I don’t know why Shake and I failed to interpret Derek’s statement that “it’s like laulau” as “it IS laulau”—because that’s exactly what we ended up with.

It may be called an Oven-Ready Deli Roll, but yeah, that is a laulau. © 2015 Sugar + Shake

Not bad. The seasoning is decent; you certainly don’t need to add any more, but a little Hawaiian salt never hurt anyone, and in retrospect, had I realized that I was going to end up with an actual laulau, I probably would’ve stuck some salted butterfish in there. The verdict I gave Melissa, prior to leaving some at her door in a Deli Roll sneak attack:

“[Derek] described it as being ‘like’ a laulau…I thought maybe it would not taste so laulau-y b/c it’s seasoned, so maybe it would be this interesting new flavor…but nah. Kinda rich b/c the pork had some generous fatty layers. Probably could use more seasoning, if I did it again.”
Live and learn.

Note that the pork is 100% cooked through. It’s pink because it’s steamed. This is absolutely normal and nothing to be freaked out about. It was fork-tender due to the long steaming. And, as I noted, it was rich—the fat all melted into the meat, so it just lent this unctuous quality to the meat; it wasn’t greasy or globby with fat. Based on this fact, and also because I am not really a laulau person, if I did this again, I would probably do the baked-style that I was going to go with prior to receiving instructions from Derek. I think that with all the fat, it would develop a nice crust.

So there you go. That’s an Oven-Ready Deli Roll. Have you ever made one, or have you previously been just as baffled as I was?