What Is Hawaiian Beef Stew?
Alright, here’s the deal! While most people refer to this dish as Hawaiian Beef Stew, in Hawaii, we call it local style beef stew. Or simply beef stew. You see, it’s not actually a Hawaiian dish, but a local favorite (more on the distinction between Hawaiian food and local Hawaii food here). But hey, we’re not here to judge. No matter what you call it, the important thing is to enjoy it over a generous portion of rice.
Growing up, we had beef stew in various places, from school cafeterias to local restaurants. Of course, the absolute best was always homemade by someone’s uncle or grandma. We even had our own mean version at home ^_^
More details and the recipe follow below…
Hawaiian Beef Stew Versus Regular Beef Stew
So, what sets our local Hawaii beef stew apart from the regular mainland beef stew? Let’s take a look at a few key differences:
- Tomatoes: The Hawaiian version incorporates lots of tomatoes (via tomato paste and canned whole peeled tomatoes). On the other hand, the mainland beef stew either has no tomatoes or just a small amount of tomato paste.
- Sweetness: Our Hawaiian beef stew tends to be slightly sweeter due to the tomatoes. You know, our local taste buds love a touch of sweetness. It just works!
- Color: The Hawaii version boasts a redder hue, while the mainland version leans towards a darker, more brown color, thanks to red wine and/or beef stock.
- Seasoning: The Hawaiian version relies on bay leaf for flavoring, while the mainland version calls for an array of additional ingredients like bay leaves, thyme, paprika, and even Worcestershire sauce.
- Rice!: In Hawaii, we always enjoy our beef stew with rice, while the mainland tradition leans more toward using bread. I’m forever on team rice ^_^
Why Tomato Paste and Whole Tomatoes?
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This recipe calls for both tomato paste and a can of whole peeled tomatoes. You might wonder why we need both. Well, let me explain. They each bring their own unique tomato flavors to the party.
You start by adding the tomato paste, sautéing it with the onions until it turns a deep, brick red color. This gives the final dish a richer, almost caramelized tomato flavor that adds depth and complexity with minimal effort.
As for the big 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, the tomatoes and their juices create the saucy base of the stew. Don’t worry about slicing or dicing the tomatoes because they will naturally break down during the two-hour simmering period.
Just a quick note: I personally use Muir Glen tomato paste, and for canned whole peeled tomatoes, I recommend brands like Bianco DiNapoli, San Marzanos, or the more affordable 365 brand.
Where to Enjoy Hawaiian Beef Stew
You can find beef stew all over Hawaii! Each place puts its own spin on it, with variations in tomato content, sweetness levels, and even the addition of shoyu (soy sauce)! So, there’s no such thing as the “best” beef stew spot. However, here are a few places we really like:
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food: I’ve mentioned Helena’s countless times on this blog. If you find yourself in Honolulu, be sure to visit Helena’s! They serve all the classic Hawaiian dishes like lau lau, poi, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig, and haupia. And yes, they also make an incredible mac salad and beef stew. Helena’s is the real deal. You can find the full post about Helena’s here.
- Yama’s Fish Market: A fantastic takeout spot with delicious housemade lau lau, a variety of ahi poke options, dreamy haupia desserts, and… their own tasty beef stew! For more information, check out the complete Yama’s post here.
- Nico’s Pier 38: This spot serves beef stew in a traditional plate lunch style, complete with rice (or even chow mein) and mac salad. While you’re there, be sure to try their delectable furikake seared ahi and fresh poke.
How to Make Hawaiian Beef Stew
- 1 pound of beef stew meat (boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3-5 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 medium potatoes, chopped
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot. Pat the beef dry, lightly season with salt, and then brown it on all sides over medium-high heat. Once browned, transfer the beef to a plate.
- Add more oil to the pot if needed. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté for 3-5 minutes until golden brown.
- Stir in the tomato paste and sauté for another 2 minutes until the paste deepens in color to a darker, brick red shade.
- Add the can of whole peeled tomatoes, bay leaves, and ½ cup of water to the pot. Return the beef to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and let it simmer for an hour.
- Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and add the celery, carrots, and potatoes to the pot. Add more water if necessary to ensure all the meat and vegetables are covered. Bring it back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another hour. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper.
- Serve the stew over a steaming hot bowl of rice. It’s absolutely onolicious!
For a printable version of the recipe, click here.
Enjoy your homemade Hawaiian beef stew! Let me know how it turns out for you.
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