Archives for posts with tag: food styling

Coconut Tuna

A vintage recipe from The Pacifica House Hawaii Cook Book, 1965

The recipe for Coconut Tuna seems fairly ordinary at first, a list of ingredients and then directions for white sauce – shortening (I used butter), flour, milk – that will serve as a base for the canned tuna, pineapple and pimento. Pretty typical bland Mid Century fare likely hoping the addition of pineapple will add a touch of tropical exotica to dinnertime.

It’s the next sentence that provides the eye-opener: “Sandpaper off rough fiber of coconut shells and saw in half crosswise.” That seemed like a lot of trouble to me. Then I found myself wondering exactly how June Cleaver with her pearls and manicure would have managed sandpaper and a saw. My method was to first use the point of a sturdy knife to pierce the coconut eyes so the coconut water could drain out. Then, armed with a microplane rasp, the next step was to smooth away a bit of the “rough fiber.” A good twenty minutes later, I was happy not to be using sandpaper on the still-rough coconut.

Rather than drag out the saw, I whacked the coconut a few times along its equator with the reverse, unsharp, non-cutting side of a 12″ chef’s knife for two coconut halves while wearing a heavy glove-type potholder for protection. The tuna/pineapple filling went into these and then into the oven for browning. After a few minutes, my son remarked on the “unusual” aroma of canned fish and fruit baking.

The coconut shell was a novel way to serve what was basically creamed tuna. It might have provided a tropical touch at the Cleaver’s dinner table. But how did it taste? I think I can safely say I won’t ever need to prepare this recipe again.

Coconut Tuna
3 Tbsp shortening
6 Tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 7-oz. cans tuna, flaked
1 Tbsp pimiento, cut into strips
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup diced canned pineapple
3 coconuts

Make a white sauce with the shortening, flour and milk. Add remaining ingredients (except coconut) and mix well. Sandpaper off rough fiber of coconut shells and saw in half crosswise. Fill the halves with tuna mixture, place in shallow baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Garnish with a spring of parsley or watercress.

– from The Pacifica House Hawaii Cook Book, 1965



Recently a Japanese food enthusiast has been trying to convince me natto is a good thing. This Hawai‘i transplant from the the midwest eats the fermented soybeans on a regular basis believing it will help with all manner of life’s aches and pains. I’m not convinced.

The polite way to describe natto is to say it’s fermented soybeans. A more realistic description would be to say it smells like strong cheese combined with wet dog and dirty running shoes. Natto has the sliminess of boiled okra, multiplied by about 100. For such an evil-smelling substance, natto’s taste is surprisingly mild. I know a few brave eaters-in-denial who compare it to the flavor of medium cheddar cheese.

But in researching natto, I’ve learned it’s also low in calories and fat, high in protein and important amino acids. Natto contains fairly significant amounts of calcium, fiber and iron, along with a few trace elements. It’s a popular breakfast food in Japan and among Hawaii’s more culinarily adventurous residents. My friend says it helps with his arthritis.

My grandmother (we called her Obachan) used to firmly declare “Natto is good for you!” as she was stirring an odiferous lump of slimy fermented soybeans into her hot rice for a breakfast treat. Sometimes she’d add a few drops of shoyu, chopped green onions and a bit of wasabi for extra flavor. We grandchildren stared with stunned fascination as she proceeded to add a raw egg – which increased the sliminess quotient a few thousand times – and, after a few more stirs, lifted a morsel with slimy strings of natto… juice? sauce? oozing off the chopsticks into her mouth. “Natto will help you live a long time!” she would say.

And Obachan did live a long time – 96 years. For most of her life she enjoyed relatively good health, likely enjoying natto all the way. Obachan tried to eat a healthy diet, mostly vegetables from the backyard garden, along with fish and chicken. She stirred skim milk into her coffee and ate fresh papaya and bananas almost everyday. Obachan ate desserts and fried foods sparingly. But, like my friend, she thought there was something special about natto.

I tried experimenting with natto, determined to benefit from its highly nutritious qualities, and came up with this recipe for an Omelet with Salmon, Nori and Natto.

Omelet with Salmon, Nori and Natto
makes 2 servings

1 sheet sushi nori, torn into 1” wide strips
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 Tbsp. low salt shoyu
1/2 tsp. salt

3 or 4 oz. salmon (leftover is good), cooked and flaked, about 1/2 cup
1 – 2 oz. pkg. natto
2 or 3 stalks green onion, finely chopped for garnish
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Mix eggs, mirin, shoyu and salt in a medium bowl. Add vegetable oil to hot pan, then carefully place nori strips in the pan. Pour egg mixture into pan and swirl pan gently to distribute over the pan bottom. Cook eggs for 1 – 2 minutes, then lift up the sides of the omelet to let uncooked portion slide underneath. When egg mixture no longer appears runny in the middle, after about 2 -3 minutes, sprinkle in the salmon flakes. Top with natto and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes, depending on how well done you like your omelet.

Roll omelet onto a serving dish and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds.