‘Tis the Season for Casseroles

Columns Ono, You Know

November 2, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Now that it’s November, the countdown to the holidays officially has begun. Are we feeling festive yet? ‘Tis the season for casseroles. There’s something so delightful about baking assorted ingredients together in a dish. As the oven’s heat works its magic, everything merges beautifully, and you’re left with a crispy, golden top and decadently moist center.

When I think of casseroles, visions of cream of mushroom soup, noodles, green beans, melted cheese and fried onions dance in my head. During this time of year, I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia, because I’ll always have a soft spot for each warm and cozy bite of my mom’s green bean and tuna noodle casseroles.

This week, however, I left it up to the pros at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Hung Won Seafood Restaurant to go casserole crazy. Given the opportunity, these OYK establishments turned up sophisticated works of art, featuring vivid flavors, fresh ingredients and so much more. There’s beauty in every nuance of the dish.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

A carnivore’s oasis, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is home to USDA prime, Iowa-fed, Iowa-grown slabs of succulent, pure beef. Each steak is cooked at 1,800-degrees, and is served sizzling on a 500-degree plate. It’s a beautiful thing, but perhaps what is just as beautiful is Mac and Cheese ($12), a creamy side casserole made with ziti and embellished with garlic cream sauce, caramelized onions and Cheddar cheese, topped with an Italian herb crust infused with Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan, and a kick of black pepper.

Ruth’s Chris’ interpretation of macaroni and cheese is a luxury for the palate. The garlic cream sauce and Italian herb crust take the casserole in a new direction. The taste is comforting and familiar, yet pleasingly unexpected and new.

The same holds true for the restaurant’s Sweet Potato Casserole. Priced at $11, this sweet, dessert-like side is urbane and balanced with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes encased in a crust made of flour, butter, pecans and brown sugar.

For executive chef Eser Domingo, the perfect casserole isn’t the ingredients alone. You must be confident in how they will meld as they bake in the oven. Each ingredient is vying for the spotlight on your fork, but each flavor must complement the other in a well-rounded dish.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Waterfront Plaza
500 Ala Moana Blvd. #6C
599-3860

Hung Won Seafood Restaurant

Hung Won's Lamb Stew with Bean Curd ($13.95)

Hung Won’s Lamb Stew with Bean Curd ($13.95)

Best known for its mouthwatering roast meats, Hung Won Seafood Restaurant is proud of its “roast counter,” where fresh meat always is on display.

“Our signature cooking style features original Cantonese flavor, but we also accommodate local tastes,” says co-owner and general manager Kevin Li. Li’s uncles Guan Qiang Ruan and Ju Wei Ruan also share ownership of the restaurant and have taken on the role of chefs.

Contrary to your typical casserole, Hung Won’s Lamb Casserole with Bean Curd doesn’t contain a single strand of cheese, nor is it layered with crispy onions. Priced at $13.95, this Chinese-style casserole features tender pieces of lamb brisket, dried bean curd and chunks of water chestnut, along with ginger and garlic. Li says the dish is intensified by a variety of seasonings, including preserved bean curd, fermented bean paste, Chinese cooking wine and a dust of rock sugar.

“This casserole requires a slow-cooking process. We add all the ingredients in a wok at high heat and mix well. Then, we place everything in a clay pot and let that cook for about two hours,” he explains.

Although the chefs use more aromatic and eclectic ingredients than what most people expect from a casserole, the lamb isn’t the least bit gamey, and the overall taste is delicious. You can’t miss the appealing aroma of the dish as it’s brought to the table — after all, it’s just a sneak peek at the devine taste to come.

Hung Won Seafood Restaurant
3434 Waialae Ave.
732-6322