Show of hands of all the people who have cancelled vacations this year? Yep. That’s exactly what I figured. Unfortunately for most of us, 2020 is a wash. Since many of us aren’t going on a tropical vacay this year, let’s bring a taste of the tropics to us. Hawaiian-inspired Macaroni Salad that’s creamy and flavorful is the accompaniment your staycation meals need. It is perfectly suited for all sorts functions since it’s so easy to throw together. And it’s so good, it can be enjoyed on its own.
What is Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad?
Just like with many other island recipes, visitors brought macaroni salad to the Hawaiian islands. Mayonnaise- the dressing’s base ingredient- is a European invention. Pasta, in this form, at least, is Italian. So, we can say with certainty this side dish wasn’t born in Hawaii. But, like most islanders, Hawaiians adapted this dish to suit their tastes, as well as, what they had access to. So, the Hawaiian version of Macaroni Salad was born.
A Hawaiian plate lunch without a scoop of this renowned side dish might as well be thrown away. Along with a couple of scoops of steamed white rice, this is what you expect to see on your plate when ordering a Hawaiian meal. Even people who don’t normally enjoy macaroni salad (my husband) pout when their lunch plate doesn’t include it.
One notable difference in this version is the slightly overcooked elbow macaroni. Like Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians aren’t hung up on cooking pasta to al dente here. In fact, I find I actually prefer the macaroni to have less crunch in this recipe. The dressing is a vinegar and mayonnaise base which is the best of both worlds, in my opinion- sweet and acidic. Add-ins like peas, carrots, seafood of various sorts, and eggs, create more complex versions of this dish. Here, we will keep it simple.
What are the ingredients in Hawaiian Macaroni Salad?
The ingredients you need to make this Hawaiian-inspired macaroni salad are: a quality mayonnaise. Kewpie mayo is a great choice if you can find it. For some odd reason, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a bag- it comes in plastic pouches- so, I opted for a store brand mayo. I avoid using salad dressing AKA “whip” because of its tangy flavor. It doesn’t pair well with the dressing’s other ingredients. Apple cider vinegar, a splash of soy sauce, and white pepper finish the dressing.
Large elbow macaroni, shredded carrots, and finely minced green onions finish the salad. As I mentioned before, feel free to customize your mac salad any way you fancy. Because no one in my family is a fan of heavily-loaded mac salad, I stick to the aforementioned ingredients. Feel free to stir in steamed peas, chopped boiled ham, crab meat, or chopped eggs if you want. This macaroni salad is like most islanders: super chill and laid back.
Let’s get cracking.
How to make the dressing for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
There’s a trick to making this macaroni salad the creamiest, most flavorful salad you’ve had and it begins with the dressing.
Instead of using only mayonnaise, Hawaiian mac salad has a subtle acidic flavor. That acid is apple cider vinegar. It adds a twang to the dressing that blends well with the creamy mayonnaise, but not so much that it’s sour.
If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sweet rice wine vinegar, or, as a last resort, white distilled vinegar may be used in its place. Add the vinegar and a portion of the mayo to a large mixing bowl. Whisk them together until smooth. Add the remaining mayo later on to finish the salad.
Season the dressing with soy sauce, kosher salt, and ground white pepper. I prefer white pepper because it looks better. If all you have is black pepper, though, use that instead.
Whisk everything together until smooth and set this bowl in the fridge.
Prep the veggies
The pungency of onions can be overwhelming in uncooked dishes. Since we’re not going to cook anything besides the macaroni, use a mild onion. Green onions, or scallions, are best in recipes where you want an onion-y flavor without overwhelming the dish.
To prepare the onion for the salad, trim the outer skins. Those are the ones with the dried, brown edges. Just peel them off and discard them. Trim the hairy ends from the bulb (white part) of the onions, as well as two inches off of the tops. Discard these as well. Finely mince the green onions and set them to the side.
For the carrots, you need only peel and shred them with a large grater. You don’t want to finely shred the carrots because they’ll cause the salad to become watery. After you shred the carrots set them to the side as well.
How do I cook the pasta for Macaroni Salad?
The macaroni used in Hawaiian macaroni salad is borderline overcooked. It is boiled past al dente (al dente means it still has a bit of snap to it), yet just shy of mushy. I like to describe it as pleasantly plump- like me!
To prepare the pasta properly, bring a gallon of water to a rapid boil over medium-high heat. Once the water begins to boil, salt it with two tablespoons of kosher salt. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 11 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Once the cooking time has elapsed, drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to slow down the cooking process.
Unlike with other macaroni salad recipes, I don’t want you to chill the pasta before adding it to the dressing. That’s the other trick to a flavorful mac salad. Instead of shocking it to cool it and suspend the cooking, you’re just going to slow down the cooking. Right now, while it’s still warm, the pasta wants to absorb anything it’s covered in, be it water or that amazing dressing we just mixed. To take full advantage of that, we’re going to add the warm pasta to the dressing now.
Mix the macaroni salad while the pasta is warm
Toss the plump, still warm, pasta into the bowl of dressing, along with the shredded carrots and the minced green onions. The pasta is already beginning to absorb the dressing and all of its flavor. So, instead of being coated in the dressing, the dressing is actually penetrating the pasta and becoming one with it.
Angels are singing, my friend. They are singing, I tell ya!
Fold the pasta, carrots, and onions into that dressing using your big ol’ spoon. After mixing, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for 1- 1 1/2 hours (or a few hours).
To finish this flavorful macaroni salad, fold the remaining mayonnaise into the salad just prior to serving it. This is where that über-creaminess is going to come from. The macaroni has absorbed as much of that mayo dressing as it can, so it’s going to be drier than when you first mixed the two together. Finishing the mac salad with more mayo restores that creaminess you look for in a good mac salad.
How do I serve Macaroni Salad?
Seems like the traditional way to serve Hawaiian-inspired macaroni salad is to scoop it onto your plate with big ol’ portion scoops. I’m all about honoring the cultures that inspire me, so that’s how I always serve mine. Of course, a spoon will accomplish that just as well.
I typically leave the macaroni salad in a nice dish and let my family serve themselves. If you’re taking this to a BBQ, transfer it to a disposable aluminum pan and cover it with plastic wrap. Make sure you or the host keeps the pan on ice to prevent the mayonnaise from going bad.
How do I store Macaroni Salad?
Because it does have a mayonnaise-based dressing, the macaroni salad should be refrigerated as much as possible. If you can store it on ice, you should be good to go, just give it a stir periodically to keep the entire salad cold. Keep it out of direct sunlight if you’re serving it at an outdoor function as that’s essentially like holding it under a heat lamp.
Any leftovers that weren’t refrigerated should be discarded- especially if the salad was held for more than 2 hours (even if it was on ice). For macaroni salad that was served at home, just keep it refrigerated in a food storage container when you’re not serving it. The prepared salad is good for 3 days.
Can I freeze Macaroni Salad?
Because of the mayonnaise dressing, I would avoid freezing this after you prepare it. I honestly feel like it’s so easy to make, there’s no need to freeze it.
Make this salad in advance and you can store it in the fridge for 3 days. The longer it sits, the better the flavor gets.
What goes well with Macaroni Salad?
I’ll be quite honest and tell you that I can (and have) eaten this Hawaiian macaroni salad on its own. It’s especially good on its own if you stirred in any proteins like spam, ham, or seafood.
I have to admit, though, it taste even better with a grilled piece of meat. Any protein, in fact, will do this salad justice. You can also serve it scooped onto leaves of lettuce.
So, although we aren’t hanging out at luau’s in our Hawaiian shirts, we can enjoy a taste of the islands. Be sure to pin this to your “I can’t believe my vacation was canceled” boards and share with your world.
Macaroni Salad: A Hawaiian Inspiration
- 4 cups mayonnaise separated
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 16 ounces large elbow macaroni
- 5 green onions trimmed and finely minced (plus more to garnish)
- 2 large carrots peeled and shredded
Prepare the Macaroni Salad Dressing
- In a large bowl, stir together 2 1/2 cups of mayonnaise, the apple cider vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and white pepper until smooth. Store the remaining mayonnaise in the refrigerator until ready to use. Refrigerate until ready to use. This dressing may be made 24 hours ahead.
Cook the Macaroni
- In a large stock pot, bring a gallon of water to a rapid boil over medium-high heat.
- Once the water begins to boil, season it with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Stir in the macaroni and cook for 11 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Once the cooking time has elapsed, drain the pasta in a colander and give it a quick rinse under cold running water to slow down the cooking process. Allow the pasta to cool for a 5 minutes.
Mix the Macaroni Salad
- Stir the lukewarm pasta, carrots, and green onions into the mayonnaise dressing. Stir in any additional stir-ins from below now, as well. After mixing, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for 1- 1 1/2 hours (or a few hours if possible).
- After the macaroni salad has chilled completely, and just prior to serving it, fold the remaining mayonnaise into the salad. Give the salad a taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
- Sprinkle a generous pinch of thinly sliced green onions over the salad to garnish.
- Serve the salad in generous scoops. Keep any leftovers covered and refrigerated for 3 days.
- 1 1/2 cups cooked ham (or other cooked protein) chopped
- 3 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 1 cup sweet peas, boiled and chilled
Here are great island-inspired recipes to try: