In Hawaii, poke, a salad of marinated uncooked tuna, can be found in pretty much every situation where food is present. I’ve seen it on fancy hotel buffets next to the seafood bar, in the deli section of grocery stores, and on the table by the tub at family potlucks and birthday parties. Here's the thing: Poke is pretty simple to make. All the work for this recipe happens when you’re grocery shopping because the ingredients are what really matter.
What Is Poke?
Poke (pronounced poh-keh) is the Hawaiian word for "to slice or cut." It is also one of the many dishes in Hawaii that is representative of its history; it’s a mix of traditional Hawaiian technique and food, with Japanese ingredients. In its most common form, poke is raw fish cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated with sesame oil; soy sauce (or "shoyu"); onions; inamona, a seasoning mixture of toasted and chopped kukui nuts, or candlenuts; and ‘alaea,a Hawaiian sea salt mixed with red volcanic clay.
Some of these ingredients aren’t exactly ubiquitous, but there have been so many iterations and variations of poke that I assure you that you will be able to find enough suitable substitutes to make this wherever you are at this very moment.
Read More About Poke: What's the Difference Between Poke and Ceviche?
Choosing the Tuna
I have seen poke made with just about every known sea creature imaginable: crab, shrimp, mussels, squid, octopus, abalone, not to mention all the different species of fish. The most common, however, is ahi — or yellowfin tuna. The best fish to purchase for poke is fresh, sashimi-grade tuna. However, if you only have access to frozen, that can work too. The important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the steak/pieces you purchase have as minimal white streaks as possible. These streaks are essentially connective tissue, and will make the fish rather chewy. If what you buy has some streaking, you can easily remove these with some patience and a sharp knife.
How to Eat Poke
Poke doesn't require a long wait before you can enjoy it. Two hours and you're good to go. In fact, you do want to eat it the day you make it, but it will keep in the fridge up to two days.
A bed of chopped romaine lettuce or cold vermicelli noodles are perfectly fine ways to enjoy poke, but if you're going for the classic, you can't beat poke served over a bowl of white rice. From there you can top your poke as you like. Fried shallots, crispy won ton strips, furikake, diced avocado, or toasted seaweed just skim the surface of your options. My advice is to taste the poke as is before you begin piling on the extras. You might find that the marinade and pure, rich taste of the fish alone don't need any gilding.
How To Make Ahi Poke
What You Need
1 pound ahi (yellowfin tuna) steaks
Scant 1/4 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, sliced on bias (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons macadamia nuts (roasted and unsalted), chopped and toasted
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon 'alaea or Hawaiian sea salt, or coarse Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Sharp chef knife
Slice the tuna: Using a sharp knife, cut the tuna into 1-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl.
- Combine all ingredients: Add the onions, garlic, sesame seeds, macadamia nuts, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and red pepper flakes. Gently mix until thoroughly combined.
- Cover and refrigerate: Cover the poke with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 2 days.
- 'Alaea salt is less potently salty, and has an earthy, robust flavor due to the iron oxide that contributes to its red color. In addition to its culinary uses, 'alaea is also used in traditional Hawaiian ceremonies like ritual cleansings or healing. If you don’t know where to find 'alaea, coarse Hawaiian sea salt is the next best thing. If you don’t have either, coarse Kosher salt is perfectly acceptable.