“Make Something Out of Nothing” — Cooking Inspired by Mom

Alan Wong’s Restaurants and Watermark Publishing, publisher of The Blue Tomato, are pleased to collaborate with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i to present an event honoring mothers (and all those other women who raised us) and their role in our food heritage.

Inspired Food: The Roots of Hawai’i Cuisine, a brunch & talk-story with Chef Alan Wong & Arnold Hiura will take place Saturday, April 27 (10AM – 1:30PM) at the JCCH Manoa Grand Ballroom.  This limited-seating event will include a talk-story presentation by Chef Alan and Arnold on the roots of Hawai’i cuisine and the roles their own mothers’ food played in their lives.


Since the whole concept of “comfort food” comes largely from what our moms used to make for us when we were children, we’re sharing this recipe from The Blue Tomato, the ‘Ahi Meatballs from Chef Alan’s Spaghetti and “Meatballs” dish. There are several components to the final dish, but this is the “meaty” heart of it — and you might be surprised to discover what the meatballs are really made of.

Spaghetti and "Meatballs"

Spaghetti and “Meatballs” (photo by Alan Wong)

Just saying the name “spaghetti and meatballs” is comforting. It conjures up images of the family dinner table, mom cooking in her red-stained apron—her wooden spoon used to stir the sauce and for an occasional taste. This is an old recipe, using one-third part bread soaked in milk. After the meatballs are formed, they are baked in the oven and then immersed in a broth to plump them up. What gives me great pleasure is when someone eats them and still cannot fathom that they’re made from tuna. It calls for the freshest of tuna; we buy only sashimi-grade at our restaurants. It’s also a great way to incorporate trimmings—as I always say to the cooks, “Make something out of nothing.”

* * *

‘Ahi Meatballs

Makes 18 meatballs (428 grams)

The Milk-Soaked Bread

  • ¾ cup (43 grams) ¾-inch cubes crustless white bread
  • 6 tablespoons (64 grams) milk

The Meatballs

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) paprika
  • ½ teaspoon (½ gram) freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 ounces (228 grams) coarsely ground ‘ahi (use a meat grinder or a sharp knife)

The Chicken Stock

  • 4 cups (892 grams) chicken stock (Chef Alan uses house-made stock; see The Blue Tomato for his recipe)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Making the Milk-Soaked Bread

In a small bowl, soak the bread with the milk for 20 minutes or until very soft. Drain the milk and squeeze the bread to remove excess milk. Place the bread in a medium mixing bowl.

Making the Meatballs

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the salt, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, coriander, paprika, black pepper and cayenne. Add this mixture to the bread. Add the ‘ahi and mix all the ingredients until well incorporated.

Form round meatballs, approximately 2 tablespoons (24 grams) each, and place them on a baking sheet.

Cooking the Meatballs

Bake the meatballs for about 10 minutes or until cooked halfway.

While the meatballs bake, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the meatballs are cooked halfway, remove them from the oven and place them into the broth. Gently boil the meatballs until fully cooked.

* * *

The Inspired Food: The Roots of Hawai’i Cuisine event is a fundraiser for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i; proceeds from ticket purchases benefit the Center. Seating is limited to 200 guests; individual tickets are $125, or reserved tables of 8 can be purchased for $2,000.

Each ticket includes:

  • Brunch (tasting stations by Alan Wong’s; entrée selections prepared by Pagoda Floating Restaurant; coffee by Pavaraga Coffee and chocolate truffles by Choco Le’a)
  • Choice of either Chef Alan’s The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong OR Arnold Hiura’s Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands

Table purchases also include reserved seating; open seating for individual tickets. To purchase tickets, call (808) 945-7633 or email info@jcch.com.

Chef Alan and Arnold will be autographing books following their presentation; additional copies of their books will also be available for purchase, to help benefit the Center.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: