Explore Hawai‘i Food with Sheldon Simeon’s Addictive Mochiko Fried Chicken

Don’t skip the dipping sauces, either.

Mochiko Chicken
Mochiko Chicken | Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Mochiko Chicken | Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

Usually, it’s depressing to leave Maui, one of the most beautiful and culturally dynamic places on earth. One way to help assuage that pain? A stop at Tin Roof restaurant, which just so happens to be right near the island’s Kahului Airport.

Situated in a semi-industrial area with shopping centers and low-flying planes, Tin Roof is recognizable by its turquoise sign and the line that often forms out front. When I stopped in with my family on the tail end of a vacation earlier this year, I spotted people hunched over takeout containers on the single bench outside. Others sat on the curb, slurping up noodles. Several exclaimed about the deliciousness of their meals.

As soon as I got our order of mochiko chicken over rice, garlic shrimp, garlic saimin noodles, and mac salad, I stopped in my tracks. My family of mainlanders had spent a week in Maui, eating what we imagined to be Hawaiian food—pineapple, poke, and shave ice. The cooking at Tin Roof had a different bent, and I was eager to learn more.

Tin Roof restaurant
Tin Roof restaurant | Photo courtesy of courtesy of Tin Roof

Turns out, what Tin Roof serves is Hawai‘i food, according to Sheldon Simeon, the chef who co-owns Tin Roof with his wife, Janice. The couple also now also runs Tiffany’s, a longtime Maui favorite that they reopened on September 25.

“I will never be Hawaiian, even though I was born and raised here,” says Simeon. “I think a lot of people who grew up here understand that in order to be Hawaiian you need Kanaka blood, but it’s still about instilling the values of Hawaiian culture.”

Simeon, who previously competed on Top Chef’s season 10, has been trying to explain the difference between Hawai‘i and Hawaiian food to visitors for years.

“[The term] Hawaiian food is reserved for the food of the Kanaka, food that is very simple,” he says. “It came with the voyagers on the canoes, and much of it in ancient forms of cooking underground and cooking over fire, and utilizing local ingredients that was brought with them in the canoes or that’s native to the land.”

Hawai‘i cuisine, on the other hand, developed more recently, “once other people started to make Hawai‘i their home and migrate here, particularly for the plantations of sugarcane and pineapple. The cultures that came were Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, Korean, and they brought with them their traditions and their food as they started to make Hawai‘i their home,” Simeon says. “So, the food of Hawai‘i pulls from all of those different cultures and they end up on the plate here.”

“I feel very fortunate growing up in Hawai‘i, because, yes, I’m Filipino, but there are all these different cultures I get to pull from and celebrate in my recipes.”

Intercultural influences abound in dishes like malasadas, or fried Portuguese doughnuts filled with tropical custards such as coconut and taro, and Spam musubi, a take on Japanese sushi made with the readily available tinned ham. These creations are distinct to Hawai‘i, Simeon says.

“I’m Filipino, my grandparents were from the Philippines, but growing up in Hawai‘i, all these different cultures were celebrated. It’s just a normal thing for me to have kimchi in my refrigerator, to have Portuguese sweet bread on the countertop, and to be eating sashimi and maki sushi rolls. Kalbi, Korean barbecue short ribs, was one the first recipes I learned as a kid, [and are] very much a part of my culture,” says Simeon. “I feel very fortunate growing up in Hawai‘i, because, yes, I’m Filipino, but there are all these different cultures I get to pull from and celebrate in my recipes.”

Janice and Sheldon Simeon
Janice and Sheldon Simeon | Photo courtesy of Tiffany's

For instance, Simeon says, Tiffany’s restaurant recently served squid luau, a stew with tender squid cooked in coconut milk with taro leaves that is inspired by traditional Hawaiian food and techniques. “And then, right alongside that on the menu, is bibimbap,” Simeon says. “Here in Hawai‘i, it makes sense. It blurs the lines and it seamlessly intermingles with each other.”

He considers Tin Roof’s mochiko chicken Hawai‘i’s own style of fried chicken. It’s an crave-worthy dish, made with carefully seasoned and calibrated rice flour batter, and served with a dipping sauce that’s equal parts sweet su-miso and mayo flavored with gochujang (also written kochujang). Then, the whole thing is sprinkled with fried garlic, furikake, and mochi crunch, and served on top of rice. “It’s become this kind of viral thing, and what we’re known for,” says Simeon.

It’s easy to understand why, given its irresistible combination of crunch, spice, and sweetness. And, it’s an exciting window into the ever-evolving world of Hawai‘i food.
“We’re not here to reinvent the wheel, but to make it a more enjoyable ride,” says Simeon. “If the wheel was still square, we’d be bouncing around.”

Mochiko Chicken Recipe

• ¾ cup mochiko
• ¼ cup plus ¾ cup cornstarch
• ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons shoyu
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
• 2 tablespoons sake
• 2 tablespoons gochujang paste
• 2 pounds boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
• Neutral oil, for deep-frying
•¾ cup all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons garlic salt

For serving
• Cooked rice
• Gochujang Aioli (recipe follows)
• Su-Miso Sauce (recipe follows)
• ¼ cup Furikake
• ½ cup arare (rice crackers), crushed into bite-size pieces
• 2 tablespoons fried garlic
• Chopped scallions
• Salt-pickled cabbage (recipe follows)

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mochiko, ¼ cup of the cornstarch, salt, and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, shoyu, ginger, sake, kochujang, and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir into the dry ingredients until combined, and then add the chicken and toss thoroughly with your hands to coat. Cover and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. When you’re ready to fry, remove the marinated chicken from the fridge. Prepare a wire rack or line a baking sheet with paper towels. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet with at least 2 inches of oil, making sure to leave a few inches of clearance from the pot’s rim. Heat over medium-high until the oil reaches 350°F (use a thermometer), adjusting the heat as needed to maintain temperature.
3. While your oil heats, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic salt, and remaining ¾ cup cornstarch. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess batter drip off, and dredge thoroughly in the flour mixture, taking your time and making sure every wet spot is coated and absorbed. Shake off any excess flour and transfer the chicken to a plate.
4. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, fry the thighs until deep golden brown, 5–6 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove and let cool on the wire rack or paper towels.
5. When ready to serve, cut the chicken lengthwise and then crosswise into bite-size pieces. Place the chicken over a bed of rice and drizzle with the gochujang aioli and su-miso sauce. In a small bowl, toss the furikake, rice crackers, and fried garlic together and sprinkle over the chicken. Top with scallions. Serve immediately with salt-pickled cabbage on the side.

Gochujang Aioli

• 1 tablespoon gochujang
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 clove garlic, grated
• ½ cup mayonnaise

In a small bowl, whisk together the gochujang, sugar, garlic, and mayonnaise with a teaspoon of water until incorporated.

Su-miso Sauce

• 1 tablespoon sake
• ¼ cup mirin
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon white (shiro) miso

In a small saucepan, stir together the sake, mirin, and sugar. Bring to a boil, cooking until the smell of alcohol goes away and the sauce starts to thicken, 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the miso until dissolved. Let cool before using.

Salt-pickled cabbage (Koko)

• 1 pound green or Napa cabbage
• 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more as needed
• ¼ teaspoon instant dashi powder (such as HonDashi), optional

1. Core the cabbage and cut into 2-inch squares, breaking the layers apart. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt, using a spatula or your hands to distribute the salt evenly and massage it into the leaves.
2. Use an inverted plate to cover and press the cabbage and place a heavy object on top, like a tin can or large stone. Let sit at room temperature for one hour. Remove the weight and use a spoon to toss the cabbage. If there are parts that haven’t turned slightly translucent, sprinkle with a little more salt and toss again. Replace the weight and let sit for another 30 minutes.
3. Remove the cabbage from the bowl and place in a colander over the sink. Use your hands to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. (Don’t rinse it!) Then, sprinkle on the dashi powder, if using, and toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve. It will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.

Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawaii by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: Kevin J. Miyazaki © 2021

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Devorah Lev-Tov lives in Brooklyn but travels the world, from Israel to India to Italy and across North America. She writes for Travel + Leisure, Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, Saveur, Eating Well, and more.