I will never forget the first time I had Nut Crusted Fish, I was at a informal Luau in Hawaii, meaning not one of the ones at the big hotels, this one was at a secret “Hawaiian Village”, I was honored and fortunate enough to spend time in, just outside Kailua, Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was out by the old airport, and there we’re, ancient airstrips, as you drove down the old dirt road passing by grove after grove of a abandoned Macadamia Farm, with old trees, that of course were still producing massive amounts of nuts, and even more abandoned Papaya groves on the other side, producing as well, on your way to a very secretive spot, where some local people had started their own “Village”. I met these people, thru another kid who like me, was a “Wharf Rat” as they called us, loitering around the entrance of the old fisherman’s wharf, where we used to hang out, wheeling and dealing to survive, living on the streets, in of all places, the most beautiful place in the world. His name was Kevin and he was, Hawaiian born and raisied, and had Hawaiian-like facial features all but for his hair, which was as White Blond, as anything you’ve ever seen, making him stand out in a crowd to say the very least, and as was georgous as the summer days were long, half Hawaiian, and half Howley (white), his parents like mine, were far to busy to be bothered, and I immediately made him my boyfriend, best friend and partner in crime.
Kevin was my hero, making sure we were fed, and having fun, surfing, fishing, camping, he would take me with him everywhere, not believing I had made it as long as I had, 13, almost 14, and alone, he was only 15 himself, but said it was different, that he was a guy, very macho, but in many ways he was right. Snow, my White Samoyed, had been killed by a drunk driver, a month before, while I was hitch hiking around the island, so I really was alone, and missed my dog so badly, and he was bizarrely, very much the human equivalent to Snow, right down to that crazy white hair, loyal, and caring, and most of all, very protective.
Anyways, we told each other everything, which was a lot for two kids our age, and he had a friend who had extended a open invitation, to this secret “Hawaiian Village” on the outskirts of town, near the old airstrip. The first time we went, was to this luau, and brought our sleeping bags, and all our stuff, hoping to spend the night, I will never forget catching a ride, in the back of a pick up truck, and watching everything go by backwards, as we approached our destination, the air so sweet, with the smell of macadamia trees, their fruit hanging heavy on the branches in the heat, Papaya, Plumeria, and Ocean, and the sun shining down on us, clad in our usual, bathing suit and shorts, and flip flops, holding hands and smiling wide with excitement, at what we were about to see.
As we turned, onto a even rougher dirt road going down towards the beach, things started to change, there were thatched huts built only from materials taken from the surrounding areas, and a large one of these, with no walls, open and inviting, with people sitting playing beautiful hawaiian music in the shade, and three older women stringing lei’s, right there on the beach. Near a bunch of Palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze there, was a smoking pit on one side, with Kailua sucking pigs, being in there, deep in the ground, since early that morning, and looking to the other side, out on the ocean, a group of men about a quarter mile out, fishing off a kind of homemade catamaran, with a kayak near by, running fish back and forth from the boat to the beach, to be cleaned, and filleted, and put on ice. A sight for sore eyes, would not be doing this scene justice, it was paradise, and we had arrived.
After proper introductions, to the some of the people, I decided to offer my services to one of the women, called simply “Ma”, by everyone who spoke to her, who appeared to be in charge, having fashioned a “kitchen”and prep area on a picnic table, which she had all kinds of vegetables, fruit, nuts, rice, condiments, Hot Sauces, Soy Sauce, Vinegars, Salts and Hot peppers, and Kim Chee in a cooler on ice in between the coolers full of water and ice, sodas, juices, and of course beer. Having been raised in Big Sur, much of my life, where everyone always had a job to do, from the littlest kids, to the eldest adults, this was just what you did. She smiled a big ol’ toothless grin and told me I should start to crack “da kine” macadamia nuts that were roasting slowly in there shell, on a grill next to the table, and never having done this, I was thrilled, she showed me how to do this, so as not to burn myself, carefully putting them in a basket lined with foil and laying them out to cool in a shady spot. I helped with
everything, from that moment on, and Kevin swam out to the boats to help as well. I cracked what must have been a bushel of nuts, that day, and when I was done with that they, needed to be ground to make a macadamia nut crust for the fish, which was done, with a make shift Mortar and pestal, then mixed with a little flour, and cane sugar, and a pinch of salt. Eventually being used with flour, then egg, then the Nut Crust, and deep fryed in a pot that was over yet another small fire pit, with a huge Cast Iron Pot filled with slowly boiling oil. This place was amazing, like a open air restaurant on the beach.
As sunset would be appoaching soon, it was time to see the Dancers, Singers, and Drummers, who because I was so busy since early that day, seemed to appear out of nowhere and performed right there in the sand on the beach, as dinner was served family style, with giant platters of everything, that had been being prepared, the Suckling Pig, Fresh Ahi Poke Salad, and the piles of this Nut Crusted Fish, along with many other dishes, people lined up a few at a time to be respectful of the incredible show, that was going on. What a delight, a trip back into old Hawaii, done the way it should be, by people who’s family’s had carried on these tradition’s for, it seemed to me, since time began….it was so beautiful it brought me to tears, and as it went on into the darkness, by the light of many tiki torches, my head on Kevin’s strong shoulder, my stomach full of the best food I’d ever eaten, we sat on our little spot of paradise, seeing how life was lived long ago, by watching the Dancers tell there stories, with the graceful movements, and gestures, of their hands and hips. It was very soon after this I came back to the mainland to finish High School, at thats right… you guessed it Beverly Hills High School…yikes, talk about culture shock!!!
We made ourselves so useful, that we were invited to stay on, and were there for weeks on end, fishing, surfing, cooking great meals, and listening to the music and the waves….it was a beautiful time, and I will never forget it as long as I live.
Hawaii No Ka Oi!
While thinking about what to do with this Mahi Mahi I got on sale, this story came rushing back into my head, not having thought about it for a long time, and knowing I didn’t have any macadamia nuts I thought about the fact that the first time I tasted a “mac” I thought it tasted like a combo of a almond and a coconut, both of which I did have! So I thought, lets see what we can figure out here, also I don’t eat fried food, so a solution to that was simple. A “Baked Poor Mans” version of this wonderful treat I hadn’t tasted anything like since I was 13! And it definitely stood up to the test!
Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi:
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Have ready ahead of time,
Almond Coconut Crust:
In a chopper or food processor put,
1/2 cup Almonds
1/4 cup Shredded Coconut (Sweet or Unsweet)
1-2 TBLS. Brown Sugar, 1 if you use sweetened coconut, 2 if you use unsweetened
pinch of salt
Sweet Chili Peach Dressing:
In a small bowl put,
1/2 cup Peach Preserves
2 TBLS. Rice Vinegar
1/4 cup Orange Juice
1/2 tsp. Chile Paste
1/2 tsp. Toasted Sesame Oil
4 Oranges peeled and sliced or sectioned
1-2 Bags Baby Greens
4 Scallions sliced on the diagonal