Back in 2012, we traveled to Las Vegas. Andy was so excited to find a shop that only sold poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) when we were looking for interesting places to eat on Yelp. The first time I tried it, I was very surprised that it’s so simple yet very familiar. When I worked in a Japanese restaurant, I tried the raw fish over rice dishes like tekka don or chirashi. The idea of a poke bowl has some similarities yet is a unique taste experience. Unlike the fish quality of sashimi and nigiri, poke can be made with cheaper pieces of fresh fish so it becomes more affordable.
What is Poke?
First of all, it is written as poke, not poké, and pronounced “poh-kay”, not “poh-ki”. The simplest traditional poke consists of chunks of raw seafood, most commonly ahi tuna, marinated in Hawaiian salt or shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), chopped seaweed (limu) and kukui nut. Green onion, sesame oil, and chili pepper are popular additions for the shoyu variation.
Native Hawaiians would typically slice up smaller reef fish and serve them raw. But with the arrival of Japanese workers in the late 1800s, the predominant poke fish shifted to ahi tuna. Poke bowls with rice — a cultural mash-up of Hawaiian flavors and Japanese donburi — became popular in restaurants in Hawaii only in the past three decades
In recent years, fast-casual poke shops started popping up all over the States. A ubiquitous food in Hawaii has become a commodification and the latest phenomenon in the mainland. During our grocery tour, one of the guests asked Andy where his favorite place to get poke was and he said that it was nowhere around here. What many of the poke shops that have recently popped up serve is essentially deconstructed maki rolls where you select a raw fish, some vegetables, toppings and a sauce of your choice. Typical Hawaiian poke is made of just a few ingredients and it’s so easy to make it yourself.
Japanese Shoyu (Soy Sauce)
Since soy sauce is the primary seasoning of this recipe, the quality of the soy sauce matters. There’re two main types of regular soy sauces, Japanese and Chinese soy sauce. I’ll write a post to cover the differences between these soy sauces and their usage. We also spent some time experimenting with different kinds of soy sauces and tried to figure out which one compliments raw tuna the best.
Conclusion: the Japanese soy sauce as a whole is definitely the winner compared to Chinese soy sauce. And the Kikkoman whole bean soy sauce is much more pronounced and has a fuller taste than the Kikkoman regular soy sauce.
Why? Since the whole bean soy sauce uses whole soybeans, not defatted soybeans, it takes much more time to ferment, usually 18months or longer, and produces a smoother and cleaner taste and deeper umami flavors than the regular soy sauce. The whole bean soy sauce is one of my all-time favorite soy sauces in the pantry replacing regular or low sodium soy sauce for Japanese cooking. Whole bean gluten-free soy sauce is also available. There’re other artisanal whole bean soy sauces that are not treated with alcohol and other additives. You can either buy it online or in Japanese grocery stores. They are more expensive but really worth it when it’s served with raw seafood as a marinade or dipping sauce. It is labeled as “丸大豆” or “whole soybean”.
Note: I do use Chinese soy sauce, but specifically for Chinese cuisine.
Where to Get Sushi/Sashimi Grade Tuna
Consuming fish in our diet is a healthy option. The population of tuna is now at only 2.6% of its historic size. We are responsible for buying sustainable seafood products without compromising the availability of scarce resources for future generation. If you are having trouble finding fresh high-quality tuna in your area, get it from the frozen section of your local grocery stores. Make sure you look up the suppliers and see if their sources are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
- japanese mayo
- Shichimi togarashi to taste
- tobiko (flying fish roe)
Add all ingredients together and gently stir until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 30 minutes. Serve over rice and add your favorite toppings.