CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aaron Muraoka assembles Masu's giant laulau. The item has been a staple at the Liliha Street restaurant, which closes today after 34 years in business. CLICK FOR LARGE
Cloud has a shoyu lining: Try Masu's teri chicken
THE NO. 1 SELLER at Masu's Massive Plate Lunch is the teriyaki chicken, but owner Paul Masuoka says he can't stand the stuff.
"I cannot stand teriyaki, because it's sweet. And I don't like chicken in sauce. I like fried chicken," he says. "Not once did I even eat that. And I don't eat rice. I don't like rice."
Perhaps this is why he's bone thin and wiry as a ninja. That, plus he's been on his feet working relentlessly in that Masu's kitchen for a generation. His only break was in 2002, when a leg ulcer worked its way deep into his flesh and he had to take a month off -- two weeks of that spent in a hospital bed.
News of Masu's closing has brought several requests from readers for recipes, especially for the teri chicken. Masuoka was happy to share, and rattled off the proportions over the phone. He works in gallons and with 100 pounds of chicken at a time, so some calculations were in order, but a quite serviceable recipe follows for all those who expect to be in withdrawal after today.
MASU'S BEGAN in the 1970s as Livingston Food Service, a catering business on Waimanu Street run by Masuoka and his mother, Yoshiko. A plate-lunch counter proved more successful than catering, though, and Masu's Plate Lunch was born (the "massive" was added years later).
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Queenie Lee packs up a couple of massive plate lunches. The staff of four works in the royal blue Masu's T-shirts -- souvenir hunters, note: You can buy one for $12 at the restaurant. CLICK FOR LARGE
Mother and son moved the operation to Kamaile Street, and 15 years ago to Liliha Street, where they worked together until Yoshiko Masuoka, slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease, retired at age 87. She died in 2004.
At one time, Masu's was famous for its upscale plate lunch specials -- shrimp cocktail, steak, even lobster tail. But after his hospitalization, and facing his mother's decline, Masuoka cut back to a basic menu.
The work didn't leave him time for a family -- "I think if I got married I'd be divorced in a month" -- but the restaurant did provide the means to care for his mother through her illness. "That I'm really, really proud of."
ON MONDAY at 10 a.m., well before lunch time, the line of customers at Masu's is constant. Behind the counter, Queenie Lee and Lynette Roberts work deliberately, without pause, scooping piles of food into foam containers. By noon, Masuoka says, the line will be out the door, as it is every day.
So what is it about this place?
Guy Simmons lives and works in Ewa Beach but has been eating at Masu's at least once a week, whenever he can get to town.
"Nothing but aloha over here," Simmons says.
He likes the photos of the many celebrity Masu's fans covering the walls, and the traditional Hawaiian music on the speakers, much of it from Masuoka's collection dating to the 1940s.
And the food, of course. "I like everything, but I'm trying to cut back on the pig," he says, with a gesture at his plate. He's opted for a single serving of fried mahimahi strips, not the three-choice combination -- and tossed salad, not macaroni.
Masuoka stops by Simmons' table. "He's trying to lose weight. I said, 'When we close -- guaranteed.'"
NOW, to get back to the teri chicken: Masuoka says he and his mother developed the original formula, but adapted it based on "constructive criticism" from customers. "Some would say it's too sweet; some would say it's too salty. So we started adjusting."
The best thing about the dish: "It's a very simple thing to do, and it's cheap."
He's not sure you can duplicate it exactly at home, though. For one thing, the first step is to sear the chicken -- and on the high heat of his commercial gas grill, that's a smoky proposition.
If your smoke alarm goes off, he says, you're doing it right. (Seriously, if you have a portable gas burner, you might want to perform this step outside the house.)
Masuoka uses Aloha soy sauce -- "the local one; the reason why is it's cheap." Actually, it's also less salty than Japanese soys. His mother taught him that. She also taught him that using a lot of water in the sauce keeps it from getting too salty as it thickens.
Now, he makes 150 pounds of chicken a day. You'll probably want to make a bit less at one time, but Masuoka says smaller quantities just don't come out the same. "The bigger the amount, the better the taste. ...
"Even my sister, I gave her the exact recipe for the kalua pork, and she said, 'It's just not the same,' and I said, 'I guess you just don't have the talent.'"
Make it yourself
This recipe is broken down from a massive original that started with 3 gallons of soy sauce. Don't expect it to taste exactly like Masu's -- in a side-by-side comparison it lacked a distinct smoky flavor that's probably a function of Masu's high-heat gas grill.
These proportions will give you enough sauce to coat the chicken, but at Masu's the chicken is submerged in sauce. To accomplish that, you should double the amount of sauce, pour it over the chicken and keep it warm for a couple of hours before serving.
If you want to make enough for a crowd, the formula is simple: 2 parts sugar to 4 part water to 3 parts soy. Ginger and garlic to taste.
Masu's Teriyaki Chicken
5 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in, with skin
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup soy sauce (Aloha brand preferred)
1/2 inch piece ginger, smashed
1 clove garlic, smashed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine sauce ingredients in pot and bring to boil. Turn off heat and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove 1/2 cup of sauce for dipping; set aside remainder.
Heat oil in heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat. Dip chicken pieces in the 1/2 cup sauce, then sear in skillet, working in batches.
Place seared pieces in baking pan, skin side down. Pour any remaining dipping sauce over chicken. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, until cooked through.
Remove garlic and ginger from reserved sauce. Bring sauce to simmer. Stir in cornstarch slurry and stir to thicken.
Pour sauce over chicken. Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 450 calories, 29 g total fat, 8 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, greater than 1300 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 10 g sugar, 33 g protein.