Pa'i'ai is made by pounding cooked taro root on a wooden board (papa ku'i 'ai) with a stone pestle (pōhaku ku'i 'ai). As the starch in the taro begins to break down into a gummy paste, the pa'i'ai begins to ferment.
This is all done for you, mind you: Pa'i'ai is sold in one-pound vacuum-packed loaves. Due to the loaf's natural shape, the edges should be trimmed before slicing into square pieces. Leave the pa'i'ai slices out at room temperature before frying to preserve the natural fermented flavor. To finish, Kajioka sprinkles on his lychee-studded take on ho'io, the classic Hawaiian salad of fiddlehead ferns.
To learn more, read "The Best Lei'd Plans."
Pa'i'ai with Lychee, Ho'io and Dried Shrimp
Recipe adapted from Chris Kajioka, Senia, Honolulu, HI
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes macerating time
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus 15 minutes macerating time
For the Relish:
2 cups fiddlehead ferns
½ cup white soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
8 lychee pieces—peeled, seeded and chopped
5 tablespoons dried shrimp
For the Pa'i'ai:
1 pound pa'i'ai loaf, cut into ½-inch-thick squares and left at room temperature for 1 hour
Canola oil, for frying
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1. Make the relish: Prepare a large ice bath. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns and cook for 2 to 2½ minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ferns to the prepared ice bath. Drain and place them in a medium mixing bowl. Add the white soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and mirin, and whisk to combine. Fold in the lychee and dried shrimp. Let the mixture marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the pa'i'ai: Line a sheet tray with paper towels. Working in 2 batches, fill a large frying pan over medium-high heat with ¼ inch of oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add 4 slices of pa'i'ai and fry until the bottoms are crispy and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until the other sides are crispy. Transfer to the prepared sheet tray and season both sides of each slice with salt while still warm.
3. Divide the fried pa'i'ai among 8 plates. Using a slotted spoon, top the pa'i'ai with the relish, garnish with the scallions and serve.