It’s not pronounced “poke,” as in that once upon a time Facebook gesture. Or “pokey,” as in hokey. It’s pronounced “poh keh.” This Hawaiian dish, which is generally made up of cubed raw fish and various ingredients such as ogo (fresh seaweed), raw green and sweet white onions, sea salt, soy sauce and sesame oil, is a personal favorite of mine. I grew up in Hawaii, and every time I go back to visit family, it’s one of the first dishes I seek out. It’s not difficult to find there — you can walk into just about any grocery store, saunter up to the seafood counter and choose from bins of different poke concoctions, everything from ahi to salmon, marlin, cooked tako (octopus) and more. I remember stopping at the market in the morning on the way to the beach with my family as a kid. The poke at this particular store was made from fish that had been in the water just hours before. We would order two or three varieties, toss the to-go containers in a cooler and peck away at their contents throughout the day. It was the perfect snack.
Poke can be found at a fair amount of local restaurants here in the Northwest (John Howie Steak and Seastar both carry a version) and it seems the dish is becoming more accessible. Uwajimaya has offered poke for many years, and Metropolitan Market in Kirkland (plus its Uptown and Magnolia locations) is now offering a poke bar. For a set price, you can mix and match your ahi (tuna), salmon or tako (octopus) poke with rice, kimchi and other offerings. There is even a new food truck touting the Hawaiian dish — Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max frequents the downtown Seattle corridor, but occasionally makes a jaunt to the Eastside. The truck, which is co-owned and operated by chef Max Heigh, offers plenty of Hawaiian favorites besides poke. If you didn’t know, Sam Choy is a celebrity chef from Hawaii. Considered by many to be the “Godfather of Poke,” and a founder of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, his annual poke competition draws amateur and professional chefs alike.
My dad taught me how to make poke when I was younger, which is great because I rarely order it here on the mainland in restaurants. The flavorings tend to be a little too sweet, a little too un-authentic, and a whole lot of pricey. Whenever I get craving for poke and I’m not in Hawaii, I tend to make it myself. Uwajimaya is quite reliable for fresh fish, and they occasionally have ogo, or seaweed that I prefer to use in this recipe. What’s great about poke is that you can make the dish to your liking. Don’t like raw fish? Sam Choy has made his with seared or fried fish. Vegetarian? Substitute avocado or tofu for the fish. And you don’t need to use tuna. There are plenty of fishes in the sea. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started.
Learn more about Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max at samchoyspoke.com.
- 1 pound fresh raw ahi, cut into small cubes
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ diced Walla Walla (I prefer Maui, but take what you can get, I guess)
- ½ cup roughly chopped ogo (fresh seaweed). If this isn’t available, use green onion instead.
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon Alaea Hawaiian sea salt. I prefer the “Old Time Brand,” which can be found at Uwajimaya. Saltworks also carries this variety of Hawaiian red clay sea salt.
Mix all the above ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust as needed. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Serve cold as an appetizer or snack. This recipe feeds 4-6 people.