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Costco Eats: Dried Aku by Hilo Fish Company

This past July there was an update post here on Made in Hawaii Eats at Costco, showcasing all the current mostly food products aptly named that you can get at their locations here in the islands. One new item that excited me the most was Dried Aku by Hilo Fish Company. Who would ‘a thought? Normally you’d only find Dried Aku at the local mom ‘n pop market, fish markets and poke shops. But from Costco? Dude! It’s on! 


K. Azama Fish Wholesale Dry Aku

As it still stands, the Dry Aku I hold as the golden standard to judge all others by is from non other than K. Azama Fish Market in Palolo Valley. Simply the best! And simple it is, made with just Aku, which is Skipjack Tuna, and Hawaiian Salt, plus some water, and that’s it. As whole food as it gets. 


The once glorious Kula Kai “Hawaiian Sampan” Aku Boat, lies in dire need of restoration at Kewalo Basin in 2011. Photo by Pomai

As noted in the review of K. Azama Fish Wholesale’s Dried Aku, My ex-brother-in-law used to work on the Kula Kai during the 1970s, one of the most productive Aku Boats in Hawaii back in the day. And he made good money doing that, not to mention always coming home with several massive whole Aku to share with the ohana. That was my first experience with super fresh Sashimi, and ever since, I’ve always been a fan of raw fish. And believe me, I remember the “battle scars” he used to show us on his arms and legs from getting literally HOOKED while “on the deck”. We’re talking DEEP gashes. Crazy!

What’s interesting in how they used to catch Aku on the Aku Boat “sampans” off Hawaii, which is unlike longline boats that catch Ahi just as advertised, by a longline that’s set up with baited hooks. Aku boat fishermen would stand on the extended stern (back) of the boat in groups and hand cast by these massive poles and line. Here’s a great video that shows how it’s done: 

The result would be an Aku, a.k.a. Skipjack Tuna, which looks like this:


Aku caught by hand line in Moorea. Photo courtesy of HungryWalrus.com

Aku used to be THE fish in Hawaii back when in the 70s and early 80s. However because of market trends and fisheries resources, Aku isn’t nearly as common in stores and restaurants today as it was back then. Folks who don’t like “fishy” tasting fish won’t care for Aku because it has a distinct dark bloodline down the center of the fish. With that, it can impart a sort of liver-like, metallic flavor. The red flesh part of the Aku is also somewhat briny, and um “characteristic”. In other words, it’s not as “neutral” as very fresh Ahi can be. Yet, very fresh Aku sashimi is bomb dot com if you ask me! 

Which leads us to today’s review of Local Favorite Dried Aku, wild caught and made fresh in Hawaii by Hilo Fish Company, Costco sku #1162883. This 1 pound bag was $19.99 ($1.249/oz.) at Costco Iwilei, purchased this past July.

 Pretty straight-forward packaging. Surprisingly they didn’t use vacuum sealing, which would have extended its shelf life even further. 

Speaking of shelf life, notice I said I purchased this 2 months ago, with a “best by” date stamped on the back for 8/09/18. Today is 9/8/18, so I’m a solid month past its best by date eating and reviewing this. Which I actually purposely did, as I wanted to “test” the fact that they use Sodium Nitrite in this as a preservative.

What?! This has Sodium Nitrite? The stuff they say can cause cancer and diabetes? Yep. It’s got that. But hey, come on, it’s not like I’m eating this stuff all the time now, am I? Well, perhaps yes I am, as there’s a strong likelihood the beef in that Mango Kiawe Steak & Cheese Sub I tried the other day also has the stuff in it. Portuguese Sausage & SPAM? Yep, you bet. But you know what? I’m not gonna’ dwell on it, as I know people who have been exercise freaks, vegans and health nuts who kicked the can way before their time. Contrary to that, I know people who have had the “worst” diet (depending what your idea of bad diet is) and lifestyle live well into their 80s and 90s. So there you have it! 

Other than that, the nutritional numbers are outstanding, being very low in fat, reasonable on sodium content, and high in protein, iron and potassium. 

Unpacking it, here was have one whole pound of Dried Aku by Hilo Fish Company from “Coscos”. lol Lookin’ good! And this is 1 month after its “best by” date sitting in the bottom bin of my refrigerator (not frozen). Thank you Sodium Nitrite! 

Yup, it even comes with a desiccant moisture absorption packet. 

Pulling one apart to check the “moisture-to-toughness” ratio, I’d give this a good low 4 out of 5 stars.

OK, now we have to eat Dry Aku the proper way, and the only way to do that is with none other than Poi, my boy! 

Braddah cuz, see! That’s how you do it, cuz! Dip ‘dat buggah in da’ fresh poi and whack ’em! And? Oh yeah, I’m totally feeling this Dried Aku. It’s not as moist as the fresh batch with no nitrites from K. Azama’s, but for sitting 2 months in my fridge, I’m not complaining one bit! And for $20 per pound, that’s actually a pretty good price, as most places charge about $24 and up for Dry Aku. 

Eh brah, you know what? Screw it, ‘dis buggah’ is so ono, we go pound da’ whole stick, nevah mind just one slice! No, but seriously, this is some solid Dry Aku. It’s salted perfectly, with a very meaty, full-bodied flavor. The only fishy part as it should be is the black blood line part, yet that part is even bettah wit’ da’ poi! The fibers of the flesh are somewhat stringy, similar to most beef jerky, except the fibers are more course and long. 

All I can really say is, if you know your Dry Aku and what is good or bad dry aku, I’m quite confident you’ll be giving a big shaka to this one from Hilo Fish Company. Broke ‘da mout winnahz!  

Now I gotta’ hit the beach and jump in the ocean to detox myself of the Sodium Nitrites. ;-) 

What? Dried Aku by Hilo Fish Company
Where did you get it and how much? Costco Iwilei, $19.99 per 1 pound bag. 
Big shaka to: Upholds the golden standard for Dry Aku set by K. Azama Fish Wholesale in Palolo Valley. Very good moisture-to-toughness ratio. Meaty and tasty! Perfectly salted. Cut in fat and long sticks for a satisfying eating experience. lol Even more “mean” with fresh poi! Beyond excellent shelf life, in every sense of those words! Reasonable market price. Costco… gotta’ love them! 
No shaka to: Sodium Nitrites, or at least the bad things they say about what it can do. 
Tasty Island rating: 

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Tasty Island related links:
Dry Aku & Poi
• Roy’s Big Island Smoked Marlin and Smoked Ahi 

P.S. Dry Aku Poke from Tamura’s:


Tamura’s Dry Aku Poke 


Tamura’s Dry Aku Poke, supah ono! 

Finally, here’s the current market prices for (previously frozen) dried aku, dried ahi, smoked marlin and fresh Taro Brand Poi: 


Current price in Honolulu as of 9.7.18


Current price in Honolulu as of 9.7.18


Current price in Honolulu as of 9.7.18


Current price in Honolulu as of 9.7.18

 

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6 thoughts on “Costco Eats: Dried Aku by Hilo Fish Company

  • September 10, 2018 at 3:06 am
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    Pomai, good post.  Living on the Mainland, I haven't had dried aku for decades.  Like you, I love the stuff with my Hawaiian food dinner — laulau (I prefer laulau over kalua pig), lomi salmon, poi, and raw sweet onions.  I also liked your video of the aku fishermen catching the aku on the old time aku boats.  One thing you forgot to mention in your post is that the hooks used by the aku fishermen had no barbs on them — that is so they could just jerk the aku off the line when it landed on the deck. Also, if they ran into a school of big aku (like 40# or greater), they would break out the poles with one line for two poles.  It would take 2 fishermen working one line to pull up those big akus!  In the old days, that was really a sight to see when those guys got into a school of "otarus".  Yup, those were the good old days!

    Reply
    • September 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm
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      Alan,

      I was not aware they use barbless hooks. Makes sense. Also wasn't aware larger Aku are called Otaru. I can't picture how using two poles for 1 line works. 

      My friend's family used to own a commercial longline boat based at Kewalo. He said the Pilot whales would sometimes follow them at night and pick-off only the biggest Ahi (never the smaller ones) from their longline, leaving just the heads on the hook. P#ssed them off! Big time $$$ loss! He used to always hook me up with Monchong, one of their common by-catch, and one of my favorite fish to eat! 

      Reply
  • September 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm
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    I agree that K. Azama Fish Wholesale’s Dried Aku sets the standard for dried aku.  But you forgot to mention that there is a branch market at 94-676 Farrington Hwy, Waipahu. Not need go all the way to Palolo.  The Waipahu market is a bit bigger and has poke, laulau (3 for $11), miso butterfish, Hamachi collars, and plate lunches.  They also sell cooked or smoked tako, aku bones (when available), and several different kinds of dried aku (e.g., some with blood).  All their stuff is ono and cheap.  I hate telling about this place cause its my go to place for fish and laulau.  But the people there are great and they deserve the publicity..

    Reply
  • September 12, 2018 at 2:20 am
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    Hi Pomai:  I looked up both the words otaru and ootaru on the internet and could not verify those names for large aku.  But when I used to fish in Honolulu waters, that is what we called very large aku.  I think it is a Japanese word for "barrel" and that is what all us local fishermen called them.  We all loved to catch those because it was not only fun, but eating them was great!!!  Especially really fresh that same day.  Great for sashimi and poke.  Also, for the double line fishing — picture this:  Two guys standing side-by-side, each with a pole in his hands.  Each pole's mainline goes almost down the entire length of the pole where it is tied to a 3-way swivel.  The third eye of the swivel is tied to a leader of about 3 feet and a hook with a little lure with a barbless hook; maybe some feathers or some shiny foil.  When a fish hits.  Both guys pull up together and swing the big fish between them onto the deck and give a little jerk and the barbless hook comes out and they swing the line back into the water.  I have seen them catching really big aku and two guys straining like hell to lift up a big aku.

    Reply
  • September 12, 2018 at 2:29 am
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    Pomai:  Using Google Translate, I found that ootaru means barrel.  

    Reply

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