Poke is such a funny word for food. If you’re not used to its pronunciation it looks like something you’d do to someone’s tummy. But it’s actually pronounced like “okay” with a “p” in front of it. Poke or “pokay.” As for what it is, poke is a simple raw tuna dish with some added flair and oomph. It’s sort of like sashimi but with lots more flavor. If you were to try and draw a comparison, it’s like the difference between a baked potato and potato salad. One is plain and you add stuff to it, the other is a medley of flavors and tastes.
I first tried poke in Hawaii with my friend Allison who showed me around the big island. It was my first time in Hawaii and Allison took me to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (not shaved ice – shave ice. There’s a big difference). But she also took me to this awesome little poke place and I thought it was delicious. I already liked sashimi, but this was on a whole other level. Now, first of all there are many, many ways of making poke. And I guess none of them are wrong, just different. Mine is a very simple recipe based on something I found while perusing AllRecipes.com. Their recipe was good, but I made some tweaks and adjustments to maximize the flavor and bring back for me that taste I had in Hawaii.
The Six Ingredients
- Ahi Tuna – for this you want the good kind – sashimi grade tuna. If you’re not sure what it is, ask your local fishmonger and they should know. A good piece to use is one that doesn’t have stripes of fat in it. It should look like a solid block of raw fish. Now there are fatty tuna that are solid without stripes of fat and that’s fine. In fact those cost way more but are even more luscious. But for this dish you don’t need to spend that kind of money. The taste of the fish will really meld with all the other flavors so save your dollars.
- Soy Sauce – any soy sauce will do, but my favorite is Kikkoman’s Gluten-Free Naturally Flavored Soy Sauce. Even if you aren’t going gluten-free, I love it because it has a more rich flavor (loaded with umami).
- Sesame Oil
- Green Onions – chopped into small pieces
- Sunflower Seeds – you can use most any nut and the recipe I first used said macadamia nuts, but those aren’t always readily available or as economic. I love sunflower seeds and the purpose of having them is to add crunch, texture, and another layer of flavor. With macadamia nuts you have to chop them up anyway but sunflower seeds are small enough you don’t have to. Pine nuts also work well but again much more expensive.
- Togarashi – Japanese dried hot peppers – this comes in a little glass tube that you shake sort of like salt or pepper. It packs a punch but is not excessively hot. I think it adds some oomph and flavor to the dish.
Putting this dish together is super easy. Make sure you have a non-reactive bowl to mix and store your poke. It’s one of the few times I avoid stainless steel.
- Cut the raw tuna into small blocks maybe about 1/3rd to a 1/2 inch squares. It should be small enough that you can fit a few pieces at a time into your mouth but not so small that it looks like little pebbles. A good block looking cut will work great
- Place tuna into a bowl (non-reactive) and mix in about a 1/4 cup of soy sauce for each half pound of tuna. Play it by ear. If you’ll eat the whole dish right away, that amount is fine but if its going to be sitting around for more than a couple of hours, you might want to dial back on it because the flavor will intensify with time as the tuna absorbs the soy sauce.
- Also add about a 1/4 cup of green onions, 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, a few shakes of sesame seeds, and togarashi to taste. I would probably start out with about 1 tsp and just add more as you like. The tuna is your star ingredient. If you have more of anything other than tuna, it won’t taste the way it should so add the seeds, onions, and togarashi as you see fit, but just keeping in mind balance is an important part of the dish. Keep tasting if need be and just remember the longer you keep it in the fridge, the more the soy sauce will penetrate the tuna.
That’s pretty much it. A very easy dish to make it will just take one or two tries to get the balance right in flavor. Goes great with rice, can be a main dish by itself, or be a hearty and flavorful appetizer or side. Enjoy!