Mama’s Fish House in Paia showcases Hawaii’s bounty on your plate
The beloved Maui restaurant works closely with local fishermen and farmers.
Mama’s Fish House, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, has been working with local fishermen and farmers for so long, their relationships are now three generations deep.
“Without those important resources, we wouldn’t be where we are,” says Perry Bateman, the restaurant’s executive chef.
Mama’s Fish House, one of Maui’s most beloved institutions for both locals and visitors, began when Floyd and Doris Christenson blew into Maui after a few years sailing in the South Pacific. Back in 1960, they made the 36-day journey from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands with a 2 year old in tow. Once there, they gathered mangoes and papayas, watercress and breadfruit, and plucked freshwater prawns from the river at night. A few months later, they set for Tahiti, where they fell in love with an open-air restaurant that served Tahitian dishes alongside French bistro classics. In their travels throughout French Polynesia, they gathered the tastes and experiences that fed their imagination for the restaurant they knew they would have some day.
That place is Mama’s Fish House, which opened on the beach in Paia in 1973, back when most Maui spots were serving steak and potatoes. From the beginning, the Christensons’ made it a point to buy fish directly from local anglers, and to this day, fishermen are named next to their catch on the menu at Mama’s. (And in addition to the breezy Polynesian decor and Tahitian poisson cru, another product of their travels anchors the restaurant: Karen, the daughter Doris gave birth to in Tahiti, now manages Mama’s.)
“When you sit at Mama’s, the fishermen and farmers are definitely part of the experience,” says Bateman. The restaurant works from more than 100 producers, from Makaweli Ranch on Kauai to Hamakua Mushrooms on Hawaii Island to Maui taro farmers. “There’s a lot of people that you’re supporting when you eat at Mama’s—you’re supporting a whole state. Really, all restaurants are community builders. We build bridges, we make real genuine relationships.”
Hawaiian Kanpachi Belly with Hamakua Mushrooms, Luau Leaf and Goat Cheese
• 12 pieces kanpachi bellies, about ¼-inch thick
• Salt to taste
• Paprika, for dusting
• Olive oil
• Lemon wedge or calamansi
• Lemon balm microgreens
• Moloka‘i black sea salt
Hamakua Mushrooms with Luau Leaf and Goat Cheese Stuffing:
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ cup small diced Maui onion
• 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
• 1 cup chopped Hamakua mushrooms
• 1 cup grilled and chopped eggplant
• 1 tablespoon small diced roasted red bell pepper
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• Black pepper to taste
• ¼ cup white wine
• 1 tablespoon cooked lū‘au leaf
• 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
• 1 heaping tablespoon of crumbled goat cheese
Stewed Waihee Tomato:
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• ½ cup small diced Maui onion
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
• 1 pinch fresh thyme
• 3 cups diced Maui tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon Salt
• 1 ½ tablespoons cane sugar
• ¼ cup chili pepper water
Maui Mac nut Pesto with Kalamungay and Calamansi:
• 2 ounces basil leaves
• 1 tablespoon kalamungay leaves
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 garlic cloves
• ½ cup grated Parmesan
• ½ cup roasted Maui macadamia nuts
• 1 cup olive oil
• 2 tablespoon fresh calamansi or lemon juice (add more if needed to desired taste)
• ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
To prepare the mushrooms and luau stuffing, in a saute pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and onion. When the onion starts to caramelize, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms become brown and toasted. Add the grilled eggplant and roasted red bell pepper. Fold gently and add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Take the pan off the heat and fold in the luau leaf and parsley. Let the mixture cool completely and then fold in the goat cheese. Add more cheese if desired.
For the stewed Waihee tomatoes, in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, and crushed red pepper. When the onion begins to caramelize, add the garlic and thyme cook until fragrant. Then add the tomato, salt, cane sugar, and chili pepper water. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until desired taste.
For the Maui macadamia nut pesto, combine the basil, kalamungay, salt, black pepper, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan and macadamia nuts and pulse until chopped. Add the olive oil, calamansi or lemon juice, and lemon zest, and pulse until combined. Taste and adjust with salt or citrus, if needed.
To prepare the fish, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lay out 6 kanpachi bellies. Spread out 1 heaping tablespoon of the Hamakua mushroom mixture on each fillet and then top with another kanpachi fillet. Season the top piece lightly with salt and dust with paprika. Coat the bottom of a medium roasting pan with olive oil and then place each kanpachi stack in the pan. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and roast in the oven for about 6 to 7 minutes. Please note that kanpachi is rich—if using a leaner fish, then the cooking time will be just a few minutes.
Sauce each plate with the stewed tomatoes, then lay the stuffed kanpachi on top. Squeeze fresh lemon or calamansi on fish. Drizzle a little more of the tomatoes on top, then garnish with lemon balm microgreens and finish with the pesto on each plate. Add a dusting of black salt and elderflowers.