This dish holds a very special place in my heart. Loco moco and I met after I had just graduated high school and was set to spend my summer on the island of Oahu, Hawaii at Surfing the Nations (STN). I remember landing at the airport and walking from the plane through the open air terminal, the humid island air enveloping me. I was greeted by two ladies holding up a sign with my name on it, they were sent from STN to pick me up. They both embraced me and one of them placed a plumeria lei around my neck, wrapping me in the most beautiful fragrance – covering me with aloha and welcoming me to my home for the summer.
The ride from the airport to Kalihi Valley where STN was based, was long and rather quiet. The ladies tried to make small talk with me while I stared out the window, amazed at the beauty of the island – but I was really just trying to take it all in. I was only 17 years old, I had never been away from my family for more than a week and now I was starting a journey all on my own in a far away land where I was a stranger to everyone and everyone was a stranger to me. Overwhelmed would be an understatement, but underlying all that was an immense excitement and sense of purpose – I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
When we arrived at the property of STN I was welcomed by all of the staff and other people living and working there. I was given the tour of the property, buildings, etc. and eventually was led to my room. I got settled in to my bunk bed and was eventually told by one of my roommates that I was invited to go out to dinner with a small group of people and attend a bible study afterward. I followed along, not knowing what else to do and the group of us ended up at Zippy’s, a local restaurant chain that I would soon fall in love with. I had no idea what to order, so I asked the person next to me what they recommended and they told me they were getting loco moco, so I followed suit and ordered the same. The plate arrived, a pile of steamed white rice topped with a burger patty, brown gravy and a fried egg. I had never consumed such a concoction before, but was blown away- the combination was unexpectedly delicious.
Loco moco, being the first meal I ate on the island, eased me into the unknown and comforted me from any unsettled feelings the way that only food could. I tried out loco moco a few more times during my stay on the island, but none of the other times compared to that first experience. After leaving the island and coming home to California, I never ate loco moco again – I would have to make it at home if I wanted it, but that meal was so attached to my time in Hawaii that the thought never even occurred to me to try to recreate it. Until a few months ago, when a random memory and nostalgia hit me out of nowhere and my mind was set to make loco moco in our own kitchen.
The version you see here has been fuzed with all of our culinary experience into a dish that smokes what I had my first night on Oahu all of those years ago. The patty has been glorified with Korean seasonings – soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, chili, garlic and ginger add an umami punch to the patty that is one of the best things you will ever taste. The brown gravy gets elevated with the addition of garlic, shitake mushrooms and of course some soy sauce, fish sauce and a touch of sugar to compliment the flavors in the burger patties. The steamed rice is the perfect foundation to soak up all of the gravy goodness and that fried egg on top, well, back when I was just 17 it seemed bizarre to me to put an egg on it, but now its a given.
Our version of loco moco is seriously incredible- its like aloha on a plate. Hawaiian comfort food at its finest, loco moco will always represent the meal that welcomed me to the island where I figured out so much about myself and experienced a way of living that changed my life.
- 16 oz ground beef (at least 80/20 fat content - we use 75/25 grass fed beef from Whole Foods)
- 1 tbsp low sodium tamari (or low sodium soy sauce can be substituted)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp mascobado sugar (or brown sugar can be substituted)
- 1 tbsp chili paste
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1/2 inch nob ginger
- 8oz shitake mushrooms
- 6 tbsp butter or ghee
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 4 tbsp all purpose flour (we used gluten free)
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 tbsp low sodium tamarin
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp mascobado sugar
- steamed rice
- fried eggs
- chopped green onions for garnish
- Start by steaming your rice in a rice cooker or on the stove
- Prepare the meat seasoning by adding tamari, fish sauce, sugar, & chili paste to a mixing bowl, stirring well to combine
- Mince the garlic and ginger into the mixing bowl with a microplane zester, stir to combine
- Add ground beef to seasonings in mixing bowl, using your hands to evenly distribute the seasoning into the ground beef - once well combined, shape the seasoned meat into three 1/3 lb. patties & refrigerate until ready to cook
- Slice the shiitake mushrooms into thin slices
- Melt 2 tbsp butter or ghee in a medium saucepan
- Cook shiitakes over medium heat, stirring often until nicely browned - add in the minced garlic & cook with the mushrooms for about 1 minute - remove from heat & reserve mushrooms & garlic in a bowl for later
- In the now empty pan, melt 4 tbsp butter or ghee - once melted add in 4 tbsp flour, stir & cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the roux has turned a nice golden brown color
- Add in the beef stock stirring continuously until the gravy is smooth
- Add in the tamari, fish sauce & sugar, stir to combine
- Add the shiitakes & garlic to the gravy, stir to combine - keep the gravy hot over low heat until ready to serve
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat until pan is starting to smoke - place the patties in the pan and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side - (start frying your eggs after you flip the burgers to cook on the other side)
- Add a pile of hot steamed rice to each plate, top with gravy, burger patty, fried egg & garnish with green onions