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Friday
Nov262010

imu turkey

We did an imu turkey this year for Thanksgiving. What's "imu"? It makes for mouth-watering, bone-dripping, 'broke da mouth' tasty meat, that's what.

An imu is an underground oven that's been used in Polynesia since ancient times. Most famous for it's luau pigs, imus can be used to cook just about anything you'd want to slow roast. And turkey for Thanksgiving is a perfect imu item.

First off, Dave and some friends picked out a spot on their ranch. Not too shabby a view for an outdoor kitchen, eh?

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Giving thanks for modern civilization, they used a backhoe to dig out a pit, and in the process saved their actual backs from shoveling out a hole about 3 feet deep. Often times, folks use chicken wire to line the pit to keep it from eroding back on itself, but that's an optional step. Dave and his buddy had been collecting small kindling for weeks, and threw that in first, followed by bigger chunks of kiawe (hickory) logs to impart that unique, smoky flavor. On top of it all, they put volcanic rock about the size of fists across the pit. The kindling was lit in the middle of the night to give it plenty of time to turn into hot charcoal that would subsequently heat the rocks to a perfect temperature for all-day roasting. Be cautioned, though: we've heard some horror stories of people using the wrong kind of rock for imus and having a subterranean explosion.

On top of the rocks, they placed chicken wire and then layers upon layers of banana stumps, banana leaves and ti leaves from our property. These plants not only provide the ongoing moisture to steam the meat, they also leave a subtle flavor - especially, the ti, which is the layer closest to the meat itself.

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For the turkey, I simply used some Hawaiian salts, butter, and cracked pepper. I wrapped the turkey with ti leaves, then cheesecloth (to keep it all together) and chicken wire (so it could get rolled around the pit, if need be). We threw in some Okinawan sweet potatoes which we later topped with melted butter and lime juice and zest from our lime trees.

Traditionally, the layers of rock, green matter, food, and more green matter was covered with tapa (bark cloth) or old lauhala mats, but nowadays, burlap and tarp are just as functional.

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And when we removed the turkeys they were perfectly situated in their chicken wire containers, and once the ti leaves were unwrapped, the meat was ready to drip off the bone.

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The only shortcoming to cooking a turkey imu style is that you don't get the crispy brown skin that is oh-so-tasty and oh-so-bad for you. But there's always Christmas for that. For us, there's no better way of celebrating a holiday with questionable imperialist origins than honoring the native cultures of our land with some traditional practices.

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Reader Comments (1)

We are cooking a turkey imu style for first time this year. We have cooked a pig twice and both time - delicious! I can't find ti leaves and wondering if bamboo leaves would work. Any thoughts? Thanks

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue, Concord, CA

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