Raw fish doesn’t faze us anymore. We eat sushi — lots of it. We’ve really gotten to like ceviche, and even make it at home.
But we’ve yet to fall for poke (POH-kay), Hawaii’s raw fish salad, which is certainly easier than sushi to cobble together, and less fussy than ceviche.
Now’s a perfect time to do-it-yourself poke. A pandemic keeps us from dining out, by and large, but the sea fish don’t know that and they’re still hopping non-stops to DIA and getting here as fresh as ever.
The simplest poke is just large cubes of raw tuna, sesame seed oil, soy sauce, sliced scallion and sesame seeds. It’s a yin and yang of crunch and slither, salt and umami.
Served over rice and greens (as everyday as sliced lettuce), poke is a fancy yet simple whole meal.
I’m pretty sure we don’t do a lot of poke because we’re infrequent buyers of sushi-grade tuna, but you can make poke with large cooked shrimp, other raw fish such as salmon, scallop, seabass or halibut (just buy super-fresh or frozen), firmer tofu and even cooked foods such as large portobello mushroom caps or skinned golden beets, both cut into large chunks.
Many among us are also unaccustomed to cooking sushi rice or sticky rice, so we just reflexively say no way to poke. But regular rice, white or brown and any length or girth, is just fine, too, as are other grains such as quinoa, amaranth or bulghur. Soba or rice noodles, cooked and cooled, work well also.
As for seasonings, go for a balance of salt, fat and umami. Soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame seed oil are common, but you can also use citrus juices and mayonnaise (try to find an Asian version of the tangy Kewpie brand).
The Hawaiian word “poke” means “to slice,” and that’s the job mostly of the fish or other chunked food, and often the greens or vegetables such as seaweed strips, cilantro, shredded cabbage, avocado cubes or strips or edamame.
But the balancing counterpoint to “slice” is “crunch,” so let loose with add-ins such as matchstick carrots, mandarin orange segments, coins of cucumber, pickled ginger, dried seaweed strips, radish coins or slivers, and toasted wonton wrappers or pastel-colored shrimp or prawn crackers. Any wasabi? To the side.
DIY Poke bowls
Makes 2 servings.
- 3/4 cup uncooked sushi rice
- 3/4 pound No. 1 or No. 2 grade ahi tuna, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice or 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame seed oil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes (plain red or Urfa or Aleppo)
- 1/3 large or 1/2 medium jalapeño pepper, sliced see-through-thin
- 2 large scallions, sliced into thin rings, white and light green parts only
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds (roasted, white or black, or a mix)
Make the sushi rice and when finished, set it aside, covered with a towel, refrigerated if desired. Put the tuna chunks in a bowl and add the soy sauce or tamari, lime juice or vinegar, sesame seed oil, and pepper flakes. Toss the fish well in the dressing and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes or up to an hour, again refrigerated if desired.
To a small bowl, add the jalapeño rings, the sliced scallions, and the cilantro leaves and toss together well. When ready to serve, assemble 2 poke bowls by putting 1/2 the cooked rice into each. Take the marinated fish and add the greens from the small bowl, again tossing well so that small bits of scallion, jalapeño and cilantro stick throughout. Arrange 1/2 measure of the fish in each bowl, sprinkling decoratively with the sesame seeds.
- For a “sweet” seasonal peach and cucumber poke, omit the dried peppers, jalapeño and cilantro and substitute 1 Colorado peach, skinned, pitted and diced, and 1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and diced.
- To make a “Nicoise poke,” substitute an orange ponzu for the dressing (orange juice and a bit of grated orange zest for the lime juice, plus a splash of rice vinegar); and none of the other ingredients except the scallion. To the bowl, add green bean segments tossed thinly in olive oil, very good oil-cured black olives, hard-cooked eggs, a couple of wee cooked waxy potatoes, some small jewel tomatoes, and perhaps a few strips of romaine lettuce.
- For a “lunchroom tuna salad” poke, make half the amount of dressing and add 1 heaping tablespoon Kewpie mayonnaise and 1 heaping teaspoon sweet pickle relish, both mixed-in; exchange chopped flat-leaf parsley for the cilantro; and omit the sesame seeds in favor of large toasted breadcrumbs or croutons.
Note to readers: The other day a friend gave me a zucchini the size of a surface-to-air missile. If your garden is turning out major bounty in the squash, tomato, herb or pepper departments, I can help you cook them. Email me and I will respond with links to a few previous columns on those vegetables.