Regretfully, there was a time when I didn't know poke existed. That time is defined by my birth up through a trip to Hawaii a few years back. I'm not sure how I missed this fantastic dish through all of those years, but I did, and that's shameful.
Poke (sounds like Hokey Pokey) is a Hawaiian dish consisting of raw fish and any number of other items, with a flavor profile generally leaning toward the Chinese/Japanese end of the very diverse Hawaiian food spectrum (soy sauce, sesame oil, seaweed). Some places will even serve poke with lightly seared fish. Seafood Bar & Grill, I'm looking at you.
My preference is raw fish, chopped into smallish cubes, and mixed with just a few ingredients, including:
- Crushed macadamia nuts. These are close to the kukui nut, which is a nut that grows all over the Hawaiian islands. Store these nuts in your freezer.
- Shallot. We don't have those sweet Hawaiian onions here in NJ, and standard onions are a bit too strong at times. I soak the sliced shallot in some cold water for a while to take some of the bite out.
- Soy sauce. I use Chinese light soy sauce, rather than Japanese soy sauce. There's a difference.
- Sesame oil.
- Grated ginger.
- Hot pepper flakes. I use Korean hot pepper flake, available at Asian markets.
- Sea salt. I use this wonderful Hawaiian Red sea salt, which has a very large grain.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Don't over mix or else things can get gummy, and that's not preferable.
Poke is almost a pantry dish, meaning, we generally have everything on hand, but the fish. So shopping is a breeze. In this heat, there's little more satisfying than making a quick and easy meal without using fire or flame.
While poke is often considered an appetizer, it's easily a meal when served with rice, a salad, or better yet, anything resembling guacamole; avocado and raw tuna are fast friends.
Snacking on kukui nuts on a break from zip-lining with Big Island Eco Adventures.
I had poke at least once a day during that Hawaiian trip. Often, I had it twice. It they served it for breakfast I would have had it three times. I'm a sucker for raw fish, and poke may very well be the best use of raw fish in the history of time.
Here are some of the versions that went into my face:
La Mariana Sailing Club. A ridiculously kitschy Tiki bar, with great fish. The poke is at the back of this dish.
Roy's Waikiki Beach.
Seafood Bar & Grill. Kawaihae, Big Island. Umbrellas and huge wedges of fruit in the cocktail. Damn I love Hawaii.
Side Street Inn. Honolulu.
Fairmont Orchid. Big Island.
And of course, you can use salmon.