Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a delicious and unique pasta salad that’s generously dressed in a super creamy dressing that’s both a little tangy and a little sweet. This wonderful salad is totally addicting. Mahalo!
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Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is hard to come by in restaurants and delis.
Believe me, I’ve looked.
There’s a little Hawaiian restaurant in the town I live that serves it as part of their plate lunches. (Wow. Plate lunches are so good.) The Hawaiian macaroni salad at that restaurant is divine. It’s creamy and tangy and has the perfect amount of crunch.
Unfortunately, that restaurant is still the only place in my area I can find Hawaiian macaroni salad. Even restaurants that serve teriyaki chicken don’t have the delicious, creamy mac salad I love.
The macaroni salad at the Hawaiian restaurant I love is little more than dressing and elbow pasta with a little carrot and very finely diced celery and it is without a doubt one of the best Hawaiian macaroni salad recipes I’ve ever tasted.
Authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad is delicious. In its simplicity, it has achieved something near perfection.
That wonderful scoop of creamy pasta is amazing without a dense amount of extra ingredients.
Real Hawaiian mac salad is simple. Elbow macaroni, mayo, cider vinegar, carrots, sometimes celery, and salt/pepper are really the only necessary ingredients.
This is the pure, practiced version. No crazy extra garnish. No meat. No potatoes. And no pineapple or ham.
So, because I love this so much, over the years I’ve worked to perfection my own recipe for this Hawaiian delicacy. Of course I wanted my recipe to be comparable to l&l Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe and Ono Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe!
I tried and tweaked a lot of different recipes.
It’s funny, a recipe that seems so simple can actually be rather elusive to fine tune and achieve the subtleties inherent in its simplicity.
During my research phase I looked for a Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Food Network showcased on Diners, Dives and Drive Ins. Unfortunately, their recipe wasn’t on the site.
Then I tried Cook’s Illustrated Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. Wow it was close, really close to the authentic taste I was looking for. It was a little heavy on the vinegar for what I was looking for and I liked a little more veggies, but it was the beginning of a beautiful thing for me!
Now, I have to make an admission.
My family loves, I mean loves, a few mainland additions to this pasta salad. I know it’s controversial……….real controversial.
Frankly, I think it’s almost blasphemous to Hawaiian mac salad lovers, but that’s the truth of my situation.
The good news is macaroni salad is an open canvas. Sometimes we might like to (or have to, because of famial pressure) depart from that authentic, pure version and do a mainland spin.
Of all the Hawaiian recipes, macaroni salad is probably the most flexible. This makes it a fun dish to make—it can be different every time you whip it up.
I’ve included some of the standard additions in my recipe (vinegar and onions) but, honestly, you can try just about anything.
While add-ins do depart from the authentic recipe, occasionally extra ingredients can make a delicious salad.
Try ham, pineapple, potatoes (Hawaiian macaroni potato salad is perhaps my favorite variation of the recipe), fresh crab, bay shrimp, tuna, barbeque chicken, Italian dressing, pickle juice… the list goes on and on.
Making this dish is always a balance to me.
I want to respect the authenticity of the simpler dish (which is so, so good) while also allowing for some experimentation.
Try it. Let me know what you think.
If you find something you love, post it in the comments to share with everyone.
Recipe Notes For Hawaiian Macaroni Salad:
This is one of the key differences between Hawaiian macaroni salad and our typical mainland macaroni salad (like you’d find in a deli).
Both styles of macaroni salad have a mayo-based dressing.
But, in Hawaiian macaroni salad, the mayo is often thinned with milk. (The other difference between the two is that the dressing is tossed with hot pasta. See below.)
I’ve included a suggestion for the proportion of milk to mayo, but honestly the ideal balance varies based on your preference.
Go ahead and use as much or as little milk as you like.
If you want a dressing that has a more mayo-like flavor, use less milk. If you want a salad with a thinner dressing, use more milk.
The only thing to be careful of is that you don’t let the dressing get too dense.
If you choose not to include any milk at all, the macaroni salad probably won’t taste the same. This is because you want the pasta—cooked until soft—to literally soak up the dressing.
That way each bite is infused with wonderful creamy flavor.
If the dressing is too dense, meaning you haven’t used enough milk, the pasta won’t be able to soak it up. That’s not to say your macaroni salad will taste bad without using milk, just that it will taste different.
I like a little yellow onion in my salad.
If you choose to use onions or scallions in the recipe, feel free to try out a classic Hawaiian tip.
Don’t chop or slice the onion, grate it. It should be almost liquid in consistency. This will allow the onion to mix better with the dressing instead of being left in chunks throughout your salad.
My recipe uses the authentic Hawaiian method of intentionally overcooking the pasta.
Go ahead and let those noodles boil until they’re good and soft. “Fat” is what you want in your pasta.
This is different than noodles for a typical mainland macaroni salad, where you intentionally undercook the pasta to make it “al dente” or firm.
If you’d like to use al dente pasta in your Hawaiian macaroni salad, just note that this won’t have the same consistency or flavor. That al dente pasta won’t soak up the dressing as much as soft noodles, so it will be a significantly difference dish.
Once your pasta is soft, drain it and immediately toss it with the vinegar. Tossing hot pasta with vinegar is the key to making sure those soft noodles can interact with the dressing right.
This is one of those recipes additions that purists probably don’t like.
However, across the board—L&L, Ono, Cook’s Illustrated, Food Network, everybody agrees—Hawaiian macaroni salad doesn’t come out right without the vinegar.
The vinegar helps to make sure the finished dish isn’t dry, that the soft pasta stays moist and soaks up that wonderful dressing.
The mayo is a significant ingredient imparting a lot of flavor in this recipe so it has to be a good one.
I use Best Foods (no endorsement!) and love the results.
Do not—I repeat, do not—try substituting Miracle Whip in for the mayo. It’s too sweet and not even close to the right consistency for the dish.
Using the proportions listed in the ingredients list will yield a fairly large batch of the salad.
This is perfect for potlucks or summer grilling.
If you don’t want to make that much, just proportionally reduce the ingredients. (Make sure you don’t make a full batch of dressing to mix with a half batch of pasta.
Too much dressing can make the dish more like a thick mayo soup than delicious pasta salad.)
I really recommend serving this salad with a meat entrée.
A Hawaiian plate dish using consists of rice, macaroni salad, and sauced-up chicken. This is a really good combination because the creamy dressing mixes into both the rice and the meat, creating a succulent gooey-concoction.
Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
Make sure to leave adequate time for the salad to chill after assembly.
The recipe says 1 hour, but that should really only be in a pinch. 2-4 hours is a solid amount of time for everything to settle and combine. If you have the time, letting the whole dish chill overnight is even better.
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Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- 2 Cups Whole Milk~Divided
- 2 Cups Mayonnaise~Divided
- Brown Sugar 1 Tablespoon
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 Pound Elbow Macaroni
- 1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
- 1/4 Cup Yellow Onion Grated
- 1/2 Cup Carrot Peeled and Shredded
- 1/2 Cup Celery Finely Chopped
- 2 Cups Ham Chopped
- 1-20 Ounce Can Pineapple Chunks Drained
- 1/4 Cup Green Onions Sliced
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 cup mayonnaise, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a roiling bowl. Add pasta and 1 Tablespoon of salt to the water and cook the pasta for 15 minutes, until it's fat and very soft. Drain pasta and pour it back into the dried pasta pot. Pour vinegar over pasta and stir until it's evenly distributed and absorbed. Pour pasta into a bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Add the milk and mayonnaise mixture and stir until evenly combined, then cool completely.
- Add the grated onions, carrots, celery, (ham, pineapple,green onion~if using) and the remaining milk and mayonnaise to the pasta and mix until evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour for up to 2 days. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.
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