When I told some of my friends I was having poke while out at teacher training in San Jose, the reactions were mixed. One curious friend googled it, some asked how it was pronounced (poh-kh seemed more likely than the true pronunciation of poh-kee) and a few shuddered at the thought of raw fish. Friends, I have been all of these places. But this time, I was nothing but salivating through our work until dinner.
Truthfully, I have no idea where I had originally heard of poke, but the dish had been on my mind for years. Somewhere along the way while reading, I found poke as being a popular way of serving leftover fish ends and pieces by fishermen in Hawaii. Fresh caught fish from the ocean (most often tuna or octopus) that is marinated in sesame oil, onion and soy; poke seemed both strange and intensely provocative to this landlocked gal.
The history of poke seems to be relatively new in food history but the idea of using all parts of the fish and finding ways to make them delicious is one that spans both time and culture. Ceviche is a dish I have enjoyed while visiting Mexico. There, as in other countries in Central and South America, fish pieces are marinated in citrus juices along with regional spices and condiments and is served as a refreshing dish. Chopped up leftovers of tuna and salmon often appear at least here in the U.S. mixed with mayonnaise and chili sauce as a “spicy sushi roll.” These are great dishes as even the not so perfect bits do not go to waste.
The San Jose Public Market had just the place, a little joint called Coast Poke Counter. They made it easy for a poke newbie: choose your base (white rice for me), sides (I went with the seaweed salad, sunomono, edamame guac and inari sushi) and poke (shoyu ahi tuna all the way). It was THAT good.
It is the bowl I had in San Jose that inspired the recipe I am sharing with you today. I made this no less than two days back in Pennsylvania. Snow was blowing and chilling me to the bone, but I stood staunchly at the fish counter at Wholey’s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, proudly asking for a nice piece of ahi tuna. Once its frozen flesh was in my hands, there was no going back.
Does raw fish scare you? It sure does me. But I eat it anyway. I take as many precautions as humanly possible and make sure I get my fish that I will eat raw or undercooked from a reputable fish market. My fishmonger recommends always buying frozen as the nasties will have died off in the process. Here in PA, it is what I do. If you live near the ocean, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Even if you aren’t into raw fish, try the quick pickled cukes. They are delightful and are a happy Japanese influence on this poke dish. Enjoy!
- 1 large seedless cucumber, sliced thinly
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 cup short grained sushi rice
- 2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
- 4 oz frozen ahi tuna per person to a total of 8 oz
- 2 Tbsp tamari soy sauce or more to taste
- 3 Tbsp sesame oil or more to taste
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 scallion, slice thinly
- optional: more sesame seeds, seaweed salad, sliced daikon radish or edamame to round out the bowl
- In a small bowl, toss cucumber slices and salt. Let sweat a few minutes. Mix in rice vinegar, mirin and ginger. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Rinse the rice 3-5 times to remove excess starch. Drain in colander for 15 minutes. Cook the rice in a rice cooker or instapot for best results. When finished, add in seasoned rice vinegar. place in a bowl to cool and mix in seasoned rice vinegar gently in large scooping motions. Fan rice a bit to cool while mixing.
- Defrost tuna. When defrosted, pat gently with a towel to remove excess moisture. Slice tuna into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a small bowl. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds and scallions to bowl and toss lightly until tuna is covered. Set in refrigerator for about 2 hours to marinate though it may be served immediately.
- Serve one cup of rice with tuna, pickles and any other accompaniments in a bowl with sesame sprinkled on top.
Resources used in recipe: