When I was much younger, and still living with hippies, my best friend moved to Hawai’i. For a child, growing up on a commune can feel a lot like quarantine – albeit with more space, and dirtier – so losing my friend was a big deal. But whatever the logical link between our Mendocino commune and my friend’s new home in the cane fields (it still eludes me), it meant that we would visit, and for that I’m thankful: I still remember the feeling of gravelly black sand between my toes, the thrill of getting caught in a sudden tropical shower, and the snot-like sensation of eating poi for the first time.
While I have all sorts of nice things to say about hippies, virtually none of them includes the word “food”. But ask me how I first learned about the sweet/salty/sticky genius of fried eggs with rice and Portuguese sausage, and I’d probably have to credit those childhood visits to Hawai’i, and the non-biodegradable bento boxes of the stuff served up by McDonald’s franchises throughout the Islands.
I certainly don’t mean to endorse the drive-through version of the dish – after all, we’re talking about the same menu engineers who led the Hawaiian House of Crock down the dubious path of Spam and Eggs – but I strongly recommend that you make your own, without qualification: it’s fast, easy, and impresses the hell out of kids of all ages.Hawaiian-style sausage, often called “portagee”, dates to the 19th century, when some 10,000 Portuguese immigrants came to Hawai’i to work the cane fields. They brought with them the classic Portuguese sausages, linguiça and chouriço, smoked and laden with garlic, paprika, and vinegar. In a classic of culinary evolution, the Hawaiians then added their own native pineapple and brown sugar, along with soy sauce from Asia, and for me, the world of force meats hasn’t been the same since.
But as good as it is in its own right, portagee truly reaches its apogee only when served over sushi-style rice with a gently-fried egg: the sticky rice a perfect, clingy nest for the crumbling sausage; the acidity of rice vinegar and pineapple a ballast to the sweetness of smoke and brown sugar; the intangible background note of earthy umami from the soy; and all of it bound together by the unctuousness of liquid yolk the color of marigolds from an impeccably fresh egg…
Hawaiian-Style Sausage with Eggs & Rice (serves 4-8, as an appetizer or main course)
2C Japanese-style rice (available at any market), briefly soaked or rinsed until water runs clear