Let’s Talk Food: Dinner at the Meridia

Chef de Cuisine Junior Ulep , with my son Dean touring the kitchen. (Courtesy photo/Audrey Wilson)

Paella mixta. (Courtesy photo/Audrey Wilson)

An assortment of desserts. (Courtesy photo/Audrey Wilson)

It is nice to go out to eat at different restaurants to see how other chefs present their dishes. One such is Meridia at the Hapuna Westin Hotel. Chef de Cuisine Junior Ulep tries very diligently to make dishes using 95 percent Big Island products, whether it is sourced from OTEC, a Kona coffee farmer, a farmer like Raymond Kawamata from Kawamata Farms or even in the garden in the back of the restaurant.

Meridia is a Mediterranean restaurant so it is interesting to experience the use of spices such as Spanish smoked paprika or piri piri sauce, which I got to experience in Portugal, and an assortment of extra virgin olive oils from that region.


Our selection of dishes included gambas al ajillo or sauteed Kona shrimp, arugula, smoked paprika and garlic, Puna chicken empanadas with chopped Puna chicken, smoked Spanish paprika, piment d’Espelette pepper, bacon wrapped dates with passion mustard, Manchego cheese and arugula, grilled branzino or whole European sea bass with a delightful local watercress and pipinola shoots salad, white balsamic vinegar with lemon herb rice and paella mixta of bomba rice, wild pork sausage, chicken peas, saffron, Kona shrimp and clams.

Bomba rice is a short grain rice.

Primarily grown in eastern Spain, and is often called Valencia rice. It is known for its non-stick properties because of its high amylose content.

It is the perfect rice for making paella because it can absorb two to three times its volume in water without bursting.

Therefore, you need more water.

Paella Mixta from Meridia

6 ounces pre-cooked Spanish bomba rice

3 ounces diced chicken

3 ounces smoked wild boar sausage

2 tablespoons sofrito

1 tablespoon piquillo peppers

8 ounces seafood stock

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon Spanish saffron

2 ounces tomato puree

1 tablespoon green peas

4 Kona shrimp

4 Kona clams

5 Peruvian sweety drop peppers

Hojiblanca extra-virgin olive oil

Bring 10-inch paella pan to medium heat. Add olive oil, sausage and chicken and brown for 2 minutes. Add sofrito, piquillo and stock and bring to boil on high. Add saffron, smoked sausage and tomato puree and bring up to a boil then add rice. Season stock and mix with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate into the stock mixture and level off with a wooden spoon. Top with peppers and 4 pieces clams in a cross pattern.

Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-20 minutes to develop socarrat. Check rice for tenderness and seasoning. Sear shrimp and top on rice in center of the pan in between the four clams. Finish with olive oil, sweety drop peppers, grilled lemon and chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Sofrito is an aromatic vegetable base of chopped onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomatoes, cooked down until sweet and caramelized.

Socarrat is what we would call “koge” and means “to burn” or “to scorch.” It is the well-done layer underneath the filling that clings to the pan. Often it has a nice crunch to it.

If you are not able to get Kona shrimp and have to buy from the market, these are the varieties that are available: royal red is found in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and tastes like mini-lobsters. Maine are small, cold-water shrimp from the Gulf of Maine.

Spotted prawns are often sold head-on and have a candy-sweet, buttery flesh.

Whites are one of the favorite domestic shrimp and has a nutty taste and firm texture.

Brown has an earthy crawfish flavor and accounts for 55 percent of our domestic catch.

Pink are found primarily off Florida’s west coast.

It has a classic flavor and plump texture.

Desserts at Meridia are also wonderful! Their Kona cinnamon dusted churros are so light and served with chocolate, dulce de leche or coconut dipping sauces.

Tiramisu is made with Kona coffee, cocoa powder and house-made lady fingers.

The Spanish cheesecake is smooth and light and is delicious with a raspberry sauce and honey from the property and the warm Honokaa chocolate torta with olive oil gelato, smoked salt and crisp bread was decadent.

It was a wonderful culinary experience to dine at Meridia!

More on grocery store etiquette

Last week’s column about some issues at the grocery store had some interesting reactions. Grant wrote and said his pet peeve is when people buying raw peanuts pick them out one at a time instead of using the scoop.

Leslie wrote that her pet peeve is when people touch every single fruit or vegetable before selecting one. I have seen them touch every fruit or vegetable and then not buy anything! Leslie also noticed folks taking just one stalk of celery and asked if that is allowed. I guess it is allowed as it is sold by weight.

Foodie bites

Dip, Sip and Paint Events to benefit cacao farmer education:

On Sept. 9, Saturday, at Island Lava Java in Kailua-Kona, enjoy a chocolate fountain, heavy pupu and wine while you paint at the Big Island Chocolate Festival’s Dip, Sip and Paint Event. You can sign up to the 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. or the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. sessions for $65 each person.

Proceeds benefit the Kona Cacao Association and its support of farmer education.

Tickets for the 1 to 3 p.m. time: https://SipDipPaint1to3.eventbrite.com. For the 4 to 6 p.m. time: https://SipDipPaint4to6.eventbrite.com.

The ‘Ohana Corner Cafe at the Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program is now open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call (808) 934-2591 for menu selections.

The Cafeteria is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call (808) 934-2559 to order.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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