ʻUlu is a traditional staple crop that has been cherished by many cultures across Polynesia for centuries. During ʻulu season, the fruit is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as a main staple.
As the main starch of every meal, it is a common practice to continuously cook many fruits to last a family for several days at a time. ʻUlu was traditionally roasted whole in an open fire and, for larger quantities, in an underground imu (steamed) or an above ground umu (dry heat).
During peak season, excess ʻulu was traditionally turned into a fermented paste and stored underground for several months. This was an important storehouse of food during the off-season, or in times of natural disasters.
In short, ʻulu has and continues to be an essential starch crop providing hundreds of pounds of food per tree, year after year.
We asked ʻUlu Ambassador, Uncle Ricky Rocker to teach us how to make pūlehu ʻulu, or roasted breadfruit. After enjoying breadfruit for over 50 years, pūlehu ʻulu is uncle's favorite way to prepare breadfruit before turning it into dishes like paʻiʻai or ʻulu patties.
Uncle Ricky planting an ‘ulu tree. (Read his profile)
"Pūlehu - to roast on coals or embers."
Firm, mature breadfruits are placed whole in a hot fire. Freshly harvested ʻulu will work for roasting, but uncle Ricky recommends allowing the sugars in the fruit to develop for a couple of days after picking. This is when the fruit is at the stage right before it has its first soft spot which is around the 2nd day after harvesting.
Therefore, it is important to know the maturity stages of breadfruit, or else it could soften and ripen very quickly. Storing the ʻulu in a cool place will slow down the ripening. It is possible to roast ripe ʻulu, but this will result in a sweet cooked breadfruit more suitable for a dessert.
The whole fruit is placed in a hot fire and turned every 5 to 10 minutes for even roasting. Depending on the size of the fruit, it is cooked for approximately 50 minutes to an hour.
When cooked correctly, the skin of the ʻulu should form a charred, black shell. At this point, if you were to drop the fruit on the ground, the skin would crack open and the pleasant aroma of fire-roasted ʻulu would fill the air. The roasted ʻulu will look charred with black and white, and it is set aside to cool down for 10 to 15 minutes before peeling.
With the back of a spoon or a bamboo stick, the crust-like skin is carefully peeled off like an egg while the ʻulu is still warm. When done carefully, there should be no ashes that stick to the fruit. The skin will peel right off exposing the starchy inner flesh.
When properly roasted, the ʻulu will have a rich flavor and gooey consistency, like the inside of a doughy bread or mochi. The flavor resembles roasted chestnuts, and the smoke will impart a slightly savory taste.
The cooked ʻulu flesh is then separated from the core and can be enjoyed with a simple citrus-based or coconut milk sauce, or it can be smashed into a paʻiʻai or turned into patties mixed with seasonings, minced onions, garlic and fresh herbs.