Farm to Table: 6 Dishes from Hawaii Restaurants
Here are six locally grown dishes you can order in Hawaii restaurants right now—and the farmers who made them possible.
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Peter Merriman's Boeuf Bourguignon with Maui Cattle Co. Beef
We’re late to Maui’s Haleakala Ranch, because chef Peter Merriman insists on stopping for breakfast. It’s not exactly a high-end affair. We eat off the trunk lid of his car, poi and poke right from the container, standing in the parking lot of Upcountry Maui’s Pukalani Superette.
That’s OK with Haleakala Ranch manager Greg Friel.
Friel is all no-nonsense cowboy: jeans, boots and sweat-stained hat. “In this life, you never know when you’re going to drop dead,” he says. “You don’t want to do that on an empty stomach.”
In Friel’s childhood Hawaiian home, the poi always sat in a calabash bowl in the center of the table. He’s well-educated, his mother insisted. “Still,” he says, “all I ever wanted to be was a cowboy.”
“He’s the Steve Jobs of cowboys,” says Merriman. “An innovator.”
Friel’s innovation is the herd of grass-fed cattle we find around the corner.
Since World War II, Hawaii ranchers have shipped their young cattle to Mainland feed lots to be finished. “That doesn’t make sense,” says Friel. “The transportation cost has gone up three times this year alone.”
Friel has banded together with four other Maui ranches—Kaupo, Nobriga, Hana and Ulupalakua—to sell fresh Maui Cattle Co. beef. The cattle are finished not in a feed lot, but on grass, rotating pastures so they always have optimal nutrition. No antibiotics, stimulants or artificial feeds.
“Hello, girls,” says Friel. The 700-pound Angus, black and white, some red, look up briefly and return to munching the tall grass.
“Bright eyes and glossy coats,” notes Merriman. “Maui Cattle produces the best grass-fed beef I’ve ever tasted, tender, better for you than corn-fed beef.”
“We’ve had some growing pains, but we are ahead of the other islands,” says Friel. “We have the infrastructure in place. We’re on our way to breeding better grass-fed cattle.”
Maui is the only county that has posted a gain in cattle and calf sales, up 25 percent, though drought over the past year has been tough on ranches across the Islands.
“On Maui this year, we had winter rains and some spring storms,” says Friel. “We should be good for the next year.”
Since 1982, Merriman has been cultivating ranchers and farmers for his restaurants; he now has five. He also seldom stops working. The whole time we’re at the ranch, he’s been fielding cellphone calls.
“You’ll love this irony,” he says. “Up in the pasture, I got a call from one of my chefs. Our supplier dropped the price on beef from Uruguay, and could he buy it?”
Merriman shakes his head sadly. “It may be cheaper, but it’s missing the whole point. We use local beef.”
He looks around at the sweeping green fields. “If we don’t … does anybody want to see all this covered by subdivisions?”
That chef no longer works for Merriman.
“I have to teach my chefs that you have to cook grass-fed beef differently than corn-fed,” says Merriman. “It’s sometimes better to use cheaper cuts, which have a lot of flavor when you braise them slowly. You know what turns out great with Maui beef? Boeuf bourguignon. Anybody could make it at home.”
For this French classic, Merriman uses Maui Cattle Co. chuck or even a cut he calls clod. “I don’t think they even sell clod any more, they usually grind it into hamburger. But we’ve got to learn to use the whole cow, not just the steaks and tenderloin.”
To Merriman, the taste of grass-fed beef falls somewhere between game and corn-fed, feed-lot beef. “Just as you add lemon to fish, you should add acid while cooking grass-fed. All that red wine in boeuf bourguignon does the trick.”
Merriman suggests a decent, inexpensive jug wine. “Get lots, drink the leftovers.”
Another Merriman secret: Use what looks like too many onions, a half pound to every two pounds of beef. Use regular cooking onions, because during cooking their acids will turn to sugars. Save the Maui onions, already sweet, for garnish.
Garlic, chopped celery, carrots, herbs like rosemary and thyme.
“Thyme in both spellings,” he insists. “I always tell young cooks the single most important ingredient is time.”
You start the dish on the stovetop, but pop it in a low oven (300 or 325 degrees) for hours.
“In a restaurant, you have to coach your staff to take their time, but, at home, of course, you’ll want to do this,” he says. “What could be better on a Sunday afternoon than smelling boeuf bourguignon slowly braising in your kitchen?”
Web Exclusive: For a complete recipe for Peter Merriman's boeuf bourguignon using local grass-fed beef, click here.