[This post was originally published July 30, 2019. It was updated November 17, 2019 to include a step-by-step photo recipe on how to make Lau Lau at home.]
Making lau lau at home! Recipe at bottom of the post.
It doesn’t look like much, but lau lau is one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes.
Lau Lau at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
What Is Lau Lau?
Lau Lau is a Hawaiian dish made out of fatty pork and salted butterfish wrapped in lu’au leaves and ti leaves. The wrapped lau lau “package” is steamed and served alongside rice and other Hawaiian dishes like poi, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig, haupia, and lots more! It’s an essential part of any Hawaiian meal.
A platter of mini lau lau bundles for a group (ti leaf already removed) and kalua pig!
A good lau lau is meaty, savory, and sooo juicy! Many people say lau lau is their favorite Hawaiian dish and it’s easy to see why ^_^
Lau Lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
Luau Leaf and Ti Leaf
There are two types of leaves involved with lau lau:
Lu’au leaves (from the taro plant) at Haraguchi Farm (Kauai)
- Lu’au/Luau Leaf – this is the inside leaf of the lau lau. Luau leaf comes from the taro (kalo) plant. This leaf is delicious! You should eat as much of it as possible. My mom always jokes that I only eat lau lau for the leaves. And it’s totally true, the leaves soak in all the fat and flavor from the pork and fish and it’s pretty incredible. More about luau leaf here.
Ti leaves (after it’s been steamed and unwrapped from the lau lau) at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
- Ti Leaf – this is the outside leaf of the lau lau. Ti leaf comes from the ti plants. You cannot eat this leaf! It functions as a wrapper to hold and steam the lau lau. More about ti leaf here.
Lau Lau at Farm to Fork Manoa (Oahu)
LauLau or Lau Lau?
No one seems to know for sure!
Some places spell it lau lau (two words): Yama’s Fish Market, Highway Inn, Keoki’s, and Alicia’s Market, etc.
No one would say you’re wrong for spelling it one way or the other. Just eat and enjoy ^_^
Lau Lau at Poi by the Pound (Maui)
How To Eat Lau Lau
So easy. Untie the string, open up the ti leaf (don’t eat the ti leaf) and discard the ti leaf and string. Everything else you can eat! Dive in and get some of the steamed luau leaves (my favorite part!), fatty pork, and salted butterfish in one bite.
Many places serve lau lau with the ti leaf and string already removed, but I love the visual appeal of lau lau when it still has the ti leaf wrapper.
Lau Lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
Lau Lau Pork and Chicken
The meat in lau lau traditionally calls for pork and a nice hunk of pork fat. But because people are more health conscious these days, many places also make lau lau with chicken instead of pork. Or they just use less fatty cuts of pork.
That nugget of pork fat is essential though, lau lau just doesn’t taste the same without it.
Inside the lau lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
Lau Lau Fish
The fish in lau lau is salted butterfish. Butterfish is the local term for black cod. Not just any black cod, but black cod prepared in a specific way which is miso-marinated.
To make things more confusing, in the case of lau lau, what you want is a piece of black cod that’s salted. We still call that butterfish (even though it’s not miso-marinated).
So! When you hear butterfish in the context of lau lau, think salted butterfish. If you hear butterfish in any other context, think miso-marinated butterfish.
I’m not sure why we call it butterfish in Hawaii, but that’s just the way it is. You want to use butterfish/black cod for lau lau because it has a high fat content. Fat is flavor.
Vegan lau lau at ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu)
Vegan Lau Lau
For vegan lau lau, check out ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu). Instead of pork and fish, they use three local, Hawaiian vegetables:
- kalo (taro)
- ‘ulu (breadfruit)
- ‘uala (sweet potato)
The vegetables are wrapped with lu’au leaves and ti leaves, then steamed. They pour on warm housemade coco sauce right before bringing it to the table. Real good!
Lau Lau at Highway Inn (Oahu)
Where To Get Lau Lau
You can get lau lau all over Hawaii! These are my go-to spots. Each place make their own lau lau in house and they are all very different. It’s fun to try lau lau at several places to compare and find your favorite:
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu) – they serve it with the ti leaf removed so you can just eat the whole thing.
- Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu) – bonus points for prettiest lau lau, whoever wraps the lau lau here does an amazing job.
- Fort Ruger Market (Oahu)
- Farm to Fork Manoa (Oahu)
- ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu) – for vegan lau lau
- Costco (Oahu, Maui, Big Island) – for Keoki brand lau lau
- Poi by the Pound (Maui) – don’t forget to get the taro sundae (with haupia ice cream, chunks of taro, and poi) for dessert!
Ti leaves on the outer layer and lu’au leaves on the inside. Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
Lau Lau Recipe
Ok, say you want to make lau lau! How do you go about it?
First thing to know is: most people don’t make lau lau at home. They either buy it from a restaurant/Hawaiian food spot or attend a luau/party where people make lau lau in groups (aka large batches of lau lau!) Like making poi, it’s not a one person at home type of activity. Part of the fun in making lau lau is the community/people element.
To make lau lau, you need five key ingredients:
- Lu’au leaves – You can find lu’au leaves at the supermarket in Hawaii, but it’s hard to find on the mainland. One time a friend tried to make lau lau in NYC. She substituted spinach leaves for half the batch and collard greens for the other half. It tasted ok, but I don’t recommend it. Got to have the real thing. Make sure you wash the leaves good and cut off the stems.
- Ti leaves – This is for wrapping the lau lau. You cannot eat ti leaves. Check this post for the differences between lu’au leaves and ti leaves (lots of people get the two leaves confused).
- Pork butt and/or pork belly – Cut it into small chunks. Can do a 50/50 mix of both or all of one. Put in a nice nugget of pork fat if you’re using only pork butt.
- Salted butterfish – Aka salted black cod. Cut it into small chunks. Ideal to salt the fish ahead of time, but if you forgot, no big deal.
- Veggies – Can we count purple Okinawan sweet potato as a vegetable? I think so. Most places do not put any vegetables in lau lau (some might even say its sacrilegious to include vegetables in lau lau!) But I like my greens so we always add purple Okinawan sweet potato and carrots.
Lau Lau (they tie it so nice!) at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
You can substitute pork and fish with different ingredients (or even do an vegan version like at ‘Ai Love Nalo), but the classic lau lau features pork and fish.
Opened lau lau at at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
Don’t forget! All lau lau requires fat (which is why you want the fatty pork butt or belly, and salt. It’s not lau lau without both.
Ok, let’s make lau lau! We’ll look at it step by step below…
First, gather the ingredients together. The below list makes 4-6 lau lau (more or less depending how big you make them):
- 12 luau leaves
- 1 pound ti leaves
- 1 pound pork butt, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound black cod, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound purple Okinawan sweet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
- 1/2 pound carrots, cubed (optional)
- Hawaiian sea salt
This is how you assemble the lau lau:
luau leaves after washing and cutting off the bottom stems
First, prepare the two types of leaves….
Preparing the luau leaves: take the luau leaves and wash them thoroughly one by one. Chop off the bottom stem that extends past the bottom of the leaf. Chop that stem into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside (they will be used for the lau lau filling).
Preparing the ti leaves: wash the ti leaves and pat dry. Remove the main/thickest vein that runs through the center of the ti leaf. Removing this vein allows the ti leave to be more pliable and easy to fold as you will be using it to wrap the fillings. Set aside.
Note: removing the main/center vein from the ti leaf is hard work. The easiest way to go about it is to place the leaf on a table (shiny side-down). Around the center of the leaf you’ll see where the vein pokes out a bit. Bend the leaf at that point to make the vein poke out even more. Then carefully drag the vein out and down. You want to remove that whole stem but still keep the leaf intact (throw away and start with a new ti leaf if you accidentally rip the ti leaf down the middle, you can’t use a halved ti leaf to wrap the luau leaf bundle because it is too skinny).
At a clean workstation, stack 3-5 luau leaves on the counter. Arrange them so that the biggest leaf is on the bottom and the smallest leaf is on top.
In the center of the leaf, put in a few chunks of the pork butt and butterfish. Add the cubed carrots and purple Okinawan sweet potato is using. Add in several of the chopped luau leaf stems. Sprinkle Hawaiian sea salt liberally.
Use the luau leaves to fold and wrap all the fillings up into a tight bundle.
Next, place two de-veined ti leaves on a table in a cross shape. Put the luau leaf bundle in the center, and wrap the ti leaves around the bundle.
Starting at the top, use the inner ti leaf to roll the bundle up, almost till you reach the bottom (let the stem stick out). Then turn the rolled bundle 90 degrees (the open ends of the bundle should be facing the long side of the second ti leaf). Use that second ti leaf to roll the bundle up again. You want the bundle to be fully enclosed by the ti leaf.
Use the ti leaf ends to tie a topknot…that’s the prettiest method. But if the leaf ends are too short, you can also use a kitchen twine to tie/secure the bundle.
Arrange the wrapped lau lau in a steamer. Steam for three to four hours till tender.
The ti leaves will have turned from a bright green to a much darker shade when finished.
Unwrap the ti leaf (you can’t eat it the ti leaf), and slice the lau lau onto a plate.
- First, prep the two types of leaves. LUAU LEAVES: take the luau leaves and wash them thoroughly one by one. Chop off the bottom stem that extends past the bottom of the leaf. Chop that stem into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside. TI LEAVES: wash the ti leaves and pat dry. Remove the main/thickest vein that runs through the center of the ti leaf. Removing this vein allows the ti leave to be more pliable/easy to fold as you will be using it to wrap the fillings. Set aside.
- At a clean workstation, stack 3-5 luau leaves on the counter. Arrange them so that the biggest leaf is on the bottom and the smallest leaf is on top.
- In the center of the leaf, put in a few chunks of the pork butt and butterfish. Add 2-3 pieces each cubed carrots and purple Okinawan sweet potato, if using. Add several of the chopped luau leaf stems. Sprinkle over Hawaiian sea salt.
- Use the luau leaves to fold and wrap all the fillings in a tight bundle.
- Next, wrap the ti leaves around the luau leaf bundle. Use the ti leaf ends to tie a topknot. If the ends are too short, use a string to tie/secure the bundle.
- Put the wrapped lau lau in a steamer. Steam for three to four hours till nice and tender. Remove the ti leaf (you can't eat the ti leaf), and serve! Ideally with rice and/or poi, chili pepper water and all your favorite Hawaiian side dishes like lomi lomi salmon and chicken long rice. Don't forget the kulolo for dessert ^_^
- Note: removing the main/center vein from the ti leaf is hard work. The easiest way to go about it is to place the leaf on a table (shiny side-down). Around the center of the leaf you'll see where the vein pokes out a bit. Bend the leaf at that point to make the vein poke out even more. Then carefully drag the vein out and down. You want to remove that whole stem but still keep the leaf intact (throw away and start with a new ti leaf if you accidentally rip the ti leaf down the middle, you can't use a halved ti leaf to wrap the luau leaf bundle because it is too skinny).
- People often confuse ti leaf and luau leaf. Learn about the difference between the two leaves here.