A Primer on Hawaiian Poké

Lentine Alexis
by Lentine Alexis
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A Primer on Hawaiian Poké

Poké outposts are popping up all over the country with their health-conscious bowls and salads; this simple, traditional, Hawaiian dish is fresh, colorful and delicious.

However, Hawaii is no longer the only place to find fantastic poké — restaurants from New York to Los Angeles have started adding it to the menu, if not opening with the express purpose of sharing the delights of poké and Hawaiian regional cuisine. But, really, anywhere you find exceptionally fresh fish, you’ll also find poké. And, this can mean in the fishmonger’s case or at the grocery store.

WHAT IS POKÉ?

Poké (pronounced POKE-AY) is traditionally chunks of raw tuna, marinated in soy and sesame. But poké has become a ubiquitous term to describe anything chunked (which makes sense seeing that the term comes from the verb meaning “to section or slice or cut,” in the Hawaiian language). Convenience stores, liquor shops and even the Safeways in Hawaii are stocked with 20 different versions of the dish, made with everything from albacore to octopus, and even a creamy-dressed avocado poké with sesame oil.

The most common fish used is still tuna, and unlike sashimi, tartare or ceviche, where the fish is sliced in a specific way or even sauce-glued together in a specific shape, poké is tossed together as a free-form salad. Poké most closely resembles ceviche, where the distinct difference is ceviche is marinated in ingredients with more acid, while poké is marinated in more round, savory flavors — typically from the oil used in the marinade.

HOW DO YOU MAKE POKÉ?

CHOOSE YOUR FISH

The foundation of great poké is exceptional raw fish. Speak with your fishmonger about what you’d like to use the fish for and ask for the freshest option available. Ahi tuna, salmon, fluke, hamachi, shrimp and even tofu are great choices.

Once you’ve selected your fish, cut the fillet lengthwise, working against the grain, into 1/2-inch strips. Then, cut the strips crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Voila! You’re ready to make poké!

CHOOSE A DRESSING:

Now, comes the marinade and other ingredients. Like any salad, the sky’s the limit, and many of the ingredients hanging out in your pantry are great candidates for poké.  There are just a few guidelines. The fattier and firmer the fish, the more aggressive you can be with your marinade. Soy sauce, ponzu, sesame oil, gochujang or even olive oil are great places to start. Adding a small amount of lemon, orange or lime juice may fit your flavor preferences, too.

ADD SOME PIZZAZZ

Here’s where your poké gets its groove. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, alliums and pickles are all great ingredients to add texture, color and flavor. Combine at least three to create balance, depth and flavor:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables: Sliced avocado, bean sprouts, shelled edamame, shaved radish or carrot
  • Nuts, seeds and spices: Chopped macadamia nuts, toasted sesame seeds, hemp seeds, roasted peanuts, dried chilis, crumbled nori seaweed or shichimi togarashi add texture, intrigue and a little heat. Fresh ginger is a great addition as well. To include it, peel a small amount (typically a 1-inch inch piece goes a long way) then finely grate it with a microplane.
  • Peppers or chiles: This makes for a great poké even if just a little is added. Grated fresh serrano or finely sliced Fresno chilis are a good idea. Jalapeños work, too.
  • Alliums: Scallions (thinly sliced), sweet onions (finely chopped), minced garlic, garlic chips or fried shallots add depth and tons of flavor as they play off the spices and flavors in your marinade.
  • Pickles: Pickled onions, mushrooms, radishes or carrots are great to add here, too, providing the acidic punch you lack in a savory-based marinade.

READ MORE > THE GREAT PANTRY REVAMP: 10 TIPS FOR REBOOTING YOUR SPACE


THE BEST WAYS TO ENJOY POKÉ

Poké is best as part of a larger meal, typically with rice and vegetables. Brown rice, sushi rice, coconut jasmine rice, soba noodles, ramen noodles and leafy greens are all great beds on which to place your handcrafted poké. Enjoy!

Tuna Poke

Ingredients

  •  2 cups (480 ml) short-grain sushi rice
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml) kosher salt, plus more to taste
  •  2 tablespoons (30 ml) dried hijiki (seaweed)
  •  3 tablespoons (45 ml) mirin, divided
  •  3 tablespoons (45 ml) soy sauce, divided
  •  1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) sesame seeds, plus more for serving
  •  1/4 cup (60 ml) unseasoned rice vinegar
  •  1 tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
  •  1/4 English hothouse cucumber, sliced into half-moons
  •  1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
  •  2 scallions, thinly sliced
  •  1/4 cup (60 ml) mixed fresh citrus juice (such as lime, lemon and grapefruit)
  •  2 tablespoons (30 ml) soy sauce
  •  1 teaspoon (5 ml) toasted sesame oil
  •  1/4 cup (60 ml) mayonnaise
  •  1 tablespoon (15 ml) hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  •  3/4 pound highest-quality fresh tuna, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  •  1 avocado, chopped

Directions

Rinse and drain rice in a fine-mesh sieve several times until water runs clear. Let sit 30 minutes.

Combine rice and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan, season lightly with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover saucepan and simmer until rice is tender, 18–22 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; keep warm.

Meanwhile, soak hijiki in 1/2 cup cold water in a small bowl until rehydrated and softened, 30–35 minutes. Drain and mix in a clean, small bowl with 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds; let sit 5 minutes. Drain.

Whisk vinegar, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 2 tablespoons water in another small bowl. Toss cucumber with a pinch of salt in another bowl and squeeze to expel excess water. Add cucumber and jalapeño to brine and let sit at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour to pickle.

Soak scallions in a medium bowl of cold water until they begin to curl, about 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry.

Combine citrus juice, soy sauce, oil, remaining 2 tablespoons mirin and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce in another small bowl to create ponzu; set aside.

Whisk mayonnaise and chili paste in a final small bowl to make spicy mayo; set aside.

Toss tuna, hijiki, drained pickles, scallions and ponzu in a large bowl; season with salt. Serve over a bed of rice topped with drizzle of spicy mayo.

Serves: 6 |  Serving Size: 1/6 recipe

Per serving: Calories: 342; Total Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 29mg; Sodium: 472mg; Carbohydrate: 54g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugar: 5g; Protein: 17g

About the Author

Lentine Alexis
Lentine Alexis
Lentine is a curious, classically trained chef and former pro athlete. She uses her bicycle, raw life and travel experiences and organic ingredients to inspire athletes and everyone to explore, connect and expand their human experiences through food. She previously worked as a Chef/Recipe Developer/Content Creator and Culinary Director at Skratch Labs – a sports nutrition company dedicated to making real food alternatives to modern “energy foods.” Today, she writes, cooks, speaks and shares ideas for nourishing sport and life with whole, simple, delicious foods.

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