If you’ve ever been to Hawaii you’ve probably seen or been to a place that is selling plate lunches. These plates usually have 2 scoops of rice, 1 scoop of mac salad, and a protein of your choice. One of the island’s most popular plate lunch place, and one of my personal favorite is, Rainbow Drive-in. They have been feeding Waikiki since WWII and are best known for their Loco Moco, which is usually what I order. That being said, I struggle sometimes because often there is a Huli Huli tailer parked in their parking lot. Huli huli chicken is a rotisserie style chicken that is cooked over hot coals. Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian and it’s name came from bystanders yelling “huli!” every time the chicken would turn over on the spit. The chicken is basted with a sweet sauce that is similar to teriyaki but with lots of pineapple juice in it.
When you order Huli Huli chicken, you usually get a 1/2 of a chicken with all the fixin’s. But if you’re like me, the trek to Rainbow Drive-in involves a 5+ hour plane ride. Thankfully it is pretty easy to make this dish at home. It all starts with a marinade that is sweet from the pineapple juice, gingery, and just a hint of spice. The pineapple juice also makes this a quick marinade since pineapple juice has an enzyme called bromelain, that digests protein, therefore tenderizing the tissues in meat. You’ll need to be careful though, if kept too long it will turn your chicken into mush!
Sadly I don’t have a charcoal spit in my backyard (yet) but I’m sure I’m in the majority with this, so any barbecue will work! But the lack of a spit and the high sugar content in this marinade means the chicken has a high chance of burning before being fully cooked. The best solution around this would be boneless skinless chicken thighs. They’ll cook fast enough to reach proper temp and not get so much char on them where that becomes the only flavor.
- 2 pounds Chicken Thighs, boneless skinless
- 6oz Pineapple Juice
- 1/2 cup Soy Sauce
- 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 in Ginger, peeled minced
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 3 Green Onions, whites and greens separated
- 1/2 teaspoon Chili Flakes
- 1 tablespoon Corn Starch
- 1/4 cup Water, cold
- Sesame Seeds for garnish
- Grilled Pineapple Rings, optional
- To make the marinade - mix together pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili flakes, garlic, ginger, and the whites of the green onions that are minced fine.
- Lay the chicken in a casserole dish in a single layer, pour the marinade over the chicken, setting aside 1/2 cup for a sauce later. Turn the chicken a few times to make sure it is well coated. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour but no longer than 5 hours.
- Prep your barbecue - I prefer charcoal but propane works just as well for this. Preheat to a medium high heat
- Lay the chicken on a hot grill and cook for 2 minutes then rotate 45 degrees to create the perfect grill marks. Brush with some of the remaining marinade and cook for 2 more minutes. Turn (huli) and repeat on the other side. Cook until the internal temp of the chicken reaches 160° then remove from grill and let rest. The carry over cooking will continue to cook the chicken to the perfect 165°.
- Optional Step - If you're grilling the pineapple place it on the grill at the same you first turn (huli) the chicken and grill only a minute on each side or until soft and you achieve grill marks.
- While the chicken is resting - In a small pot bring the remaining 1/2 cup of marinade that you saved to a boil. In a small bowl mix together cornstarch and cold water until smooth. Slowly pour the cornstarch slurry into the boiling marinade, whisking vigorously to prevent clumps. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Garnish the chicken with sesame seeds and the green part of the green onions (sliced thin) serve hot and preferably with 2 scoops rice, 1 scoop mac salad.