Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Fa'alifu Ulu (Breadfruit)

I've just finished Nancy Horan's wonderful novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a fictionalized biography of Robert Lewis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, their passionate love story with lots of adventure and travel.  In fact, Stevenson's and Fannys' lives beat anything fictional the well-known author ever came up with.

The book, inspired by actual events in the lives of both protagonists, is beautifully drawn from extant letters, journals and diaries by two prolific writers, as well as from the letters of their families and friends.  So, an excellent example of historical fiction.

Stevenson was plagued with illness for most all of his life, and the search for a place that would be most beneficial for both his writing and fragile health took them from one end of the earth to another, finally landing and settling in Samoa, where together they spent the remainder of his life.

Which brings me to the inspiration for my breadfruit recipe.  Here in Hawaii, as well as in Samoa and the rest of the Pacific islands it is known as ulu.  Easier on the mind, and tongue.  Anyway, Fanny at one point was bemoaning the amount of breadfruit in their diet.  Understandable if that is pretty much what you're limited to in the way of starch.   But I say if people don't like ulu they probably have not tried it at the right stage of ripeness, or with a good recipe.  Though, I also enjoy it just plain boiled and sliced with a bit of butter.   Something like saying you don't like potatoes??

We have a lovely tree in the back garden, but this particular ulu was brought home by Bob, found whilst out inspecting properties.  A very LARGE SPECIMEN, and in a perfect state of readiness, meaning you do not want to let it sit about.  To me, the easiest way of dealing with the fruit is to just cover it with water and boil it.  Then after cutting up, use it however you like.  So, I covered it with water and boiled for 1 1/2 hours (because of the size), then split it in two to give away half.

This one is not quite ready

I wanted to try something different with my half, in particular a traditional Samoan recipe for ulu, which brought me to this site:  http://samoancooking.blogspot.jp/2008/10/fa.html   Siana gives a detailed pictorial on preparation, as well as directions on how to pick at just the right stage of ripeness, for this particular recipe, (though I have posted about a recipe for pudding which uses breadfruit at the extreme end of over-ripeness).

This recipe also combines coconut milk with the fruit for a savory dish.  A very simple one.  All it contains is the breadfruit, coconut milk, onion and salt.  But so delish!

Fa'alifu Ulu

1 ulu (breadfruit), cooked and cut into chunks
1-3 cans coconut milk (not the "lite" sort)
salt, approximately 1 tablespoon
1 medium onion, roughly chopped

If you look at the directions on the above site, you will notice she is using a rather small ulu.  Mine was so large that I used less than half for this recipe, so adjust the amount of coconut milk according to how much ulu you have.  Also, note she discards the clear liquid and only uses the thicker cream.

You can boil the ulu whole, which does take longer, but then there is not the rather sticky sap to deal with when cutting it up.

I like how she squishes up the coconut milk and onion for 5 minutes before using, enjoying the process thoroughly.  I did too, maybe a bit more impatiently though.  Then you dump the cut up ulu into the pot with the squished up coconut cream, salt and onion, bring to a boil, turn down a little below medium high and let it boil for about 3 to 5 minutes. Let the milk boil over the pieces of ulu and then turn the stove off and remove pot from the heat.  The fa'alifu ulu should cool for about 10 - 15 minutes, and the coconut milk will thicken and cling to the ulu pieces.

I used the time to fry up a nice piece of ahi, coated in almond meal (macadamia nuts crushed would have been good also) and smashed cardamom pods. 

I served this up with a very simple salad of watercress in oil and vinegar dressing, a perfect tangy contrast.  Quite amazingly delicious, all of it.  This post will be shared with Simona's current Novel Food and  Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking group, both of which you can visit or participate in.  Books and food, how good it that?


jama said...

I've never had breadfruit. This recipe looks interesting -- and so does the novel. I like reading about Stevenson because of his connections to Hawai'i. :)

Carole said...

I lived in Samoa for 3 years as a little girl and have visited Vailima so I'm definitely getting this book! Thanks! Cheers from Carole's Chatter!

Beth F said...

I remember tasting breadfruit for the first time when I worked in Hawaii. I haven't had it since -- I've never seen it in the stores in the east. Such an important food for the Pacific Islanders.

Vicki said...

I've never heard of breadfruit, but the recipe looks good!

Simona Carini said...

I have tasted breadfruit years ago and liked. Reading the recipe made me quite eager to try it. And what an interesting book you chose. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.