Fresh fish, tropical fruit, European sauces and a spirit of aloha can turn an ordinary outdoor meal into an extraordinary outdoor dining experience.
The Hawaiian Islands are a blend of ancient cultural traditions from Polynesia, China and Japan. Combine these traditions with fresh local ingredients, Asian spices and European culinary traditions, and you have the Hawaiian fusion cuisine Roy's founder, Roy Yamaguchi, has made popular.
To make things easier, plan your Hawaiian fusion meal in advance. Prepare the stages, plates and garnishes early to make assembly go quickly.
To embark on this exhilarating and flavorful journey, start your meal with a seared scallop salad with mangoes and fruit vinaigrette. When selecting mangoes, look for ones that have no bruises or soft spots yet aren't too firm. I always look for dry-packed scallops - ones not injected with or soaking in water - that will sear nicely. Use seasonal fruit for the vinaigrette. Strawberries, raspberries and kiwi are excellent this time of year. They taste great, have excellent eye appeal and a summery, vibrant flavor.
Hawaii is known for its fresh fish, and I always select the freshest fish possible. Proper texture, whether it be firm or delicate, and proper color are the keys to buying good fish. When buying whole fish, the eyes should be clear, not glazed or sunken. Most important, never buy frozen fish.
Good local choices for grilling outdoors include striped or blue marlin, swordfish or even a fatty fish like salmon.
One of my favorite fish dishes is Jade Pesto Seared Opakapaka with a Truffled Teardrop Tomato Pistou. It's perfect for an elegant outdoor meal, infusing Chinese style with classic French technique. Opakapaka is hard to come by in Maryland, so a good substitute is fresh rockfish or red snapper.
Elegant outdoor dining garnishes should be aromatic, colorful and sexy. The texture and flavors need to work well with what you're serving and reflect the essence of your dish. A garnish is not a last-minute item. It should be functional and take some thought. For a visual treat, use an exotic garnish like orchid petals, which are beautiful and edible. For a romantic meal, sprinkle rose petals. For a fun, lighthearted meal, add fruit or colorful flowers.
Dishes that are delicate or tender may require a firmer or crispy garnish. Contrasts in texture are like palate pingpong. For example, try a steamed fish with crispy lotus chips (available at Asian markets) or ahi poke with fried plantain.
Finish the meal with an aloha dessert. Coconut haupia - a delicious coconut custard - is a simple treat. For a more elaborate dessert, try a chocolate souffle, a Roy's signature dish that can be made at home.
Try writing a greeting or your guests' names in chocolate on the plate. Melt chocolate in a pan and fill a fine-tipped pastry bag for writing. This personal touch will delight your guests. The native Hawaiian words for happy birthday are hauoli la hanau. Kuuipo is the Hawaiian word for sweetheart. Mahalo nui loa is the term for thank you very much. Add a few chocolate dots, a flower or two, and you have a lovely and exotic plate. Keep plates refrigerated until serving.
End the meal with Kona coffee, from the big island of Hawaii. Many local stores and coffeehouses sell Kona coffee, and it's wonderful served hot or over ice.
Serve your meal on bright outdoor linens and add candles for a festive feeling or serve on a traditional white tablecloth to make flowers and a colorful meal stand out.
Let freedom and freshness guide your meal selections, and remember that the most important part of every Hawaiian fusion meal is aloha - the warmth and spirit that dining with friends and families brings.
Damien O'Donnell is chef-partner at Roy's.
Hawaiian Coconut Haupia With Fresh Fruit
two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup heavy whipping cream
diced pineapple, mango and papaya for garnish
Heat 1 1/2 cans of milk and the sugar in a pot until dissolved. Combine remaining milk and cornstarch to make a paste. Add paste to mixture and bring to boil.
Turn off the heat and pour mixture onto a tray to cool. Cover with plastic so a skin does not form. Whip cream to medium peak. In a processor, whip mixture until smooth. Fold in whipped cream.
Scoop into bowls and garnish with fruit.
Roy's Chocolate Souffle
6 ounces butter
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Mix sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Crack the eggs into another bowl, and the yolks with the eggs. When the butter and chocolate are melted, add to the sugar-and-cornstarch mixture and mix with a wire whisk.