The traditional Hawaiian dish featuring cubes of ahi tuna is catching on in the Northwest.
WE LOVE RAW seafood around here, and despite the roughly 2,700 miles of open ocean between us, we love thinking of Hawaii as a neighboring state. So it’s easy to see why we’ve taken to one of its most traditional dishes with such enthusiasm.
Poke (pronounced POE-kay) is the Hawaiian word for “cut into cubes,” and has been used to describe diced raw ahi tuna since long before Captain Cook brought sharp metal blades to the islands. Until then, Hawaiians used sharpened shell instruments to cut the freshly caught fish, which they seasoned with local salt and ate from wooden calabash bowls or trays. More recent additions to the recipe include kukui nut (also known as candlenut) and locally harvested seaweed. Soy sauce is an even more recent addition, brought to the islands by Japanese and Chinese immigrants.
Locally, there is poke on the Hawaiian-influenced menus at Super Six in Columbia City (although at dinner only) and Sansei (downtown), the first mainland outpost of the famed Hawaiian chain. It’s also popping up on menus that star raw fish but have no Hawaiian connections, like Capitol Hill’s Pinto Bistro (which is Japanese and Thai). That it’s available to go at Uwajimaya isn’t surprising, but now you can find poke at PCC, Metropolitan Market and even Costco. Poke-centric restaurants are proliferating too — my family really enjoys Big Island Poke in Renton. Mutual Fish, an excellent source for the main ingredient, makes its own poke as well.
This recipe comes from Chef Peter Abarcar, executive chef at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. Abarcar was born and raised in Honoka’a, halfway between Kona and Hilo.
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The most important ingredient in poke is the fish, and while Abarcar is rightfully proud of his state’s gorgeous tuna catch, he is quick to point out that the real joy of eating poke in Hawaii is that it’s uber-local and very traditional. For a more appropriately Washingtonian poke, you could use wild salmon or albacore, a PNW salt such as Jacobsen Salt Co., Walla Walla onions, garlic, scallions and blanched fiddleheads.
Because some of the Hawaiian ingredients can be difficult to find, you can substitute seaweed salad for the ogo, and macadamia for the kukui nuts. You also can substitute your favorite chili peppers for the Hawaiian ones.
To serve poke as an appetizer, use cupcake liners or ramekins to make small portions. If you have any leftovers, Abarcar suggests forming it into patties, searing it and serving it in a kaiser roll with Sriracha mayo, or searing it and serving it over salad greens with a miso or yuzu vinaigrette.
Hawaiian-Style Shoyu Ahi Poke on Sushi Rice
Makes 3 to 4 servings
1 pound fresh ahi tuna, cut into cubes
¼ cup finely diced sweet onion
2 tablespoons rough chopped ogo (Hawaiian seaweed)
1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely sliced scallions
2 teaspoons toasted, crushed inamona (kukui nut)
Minced Hawaiian chili peppers
Hawaiian sea salt
3 to 4 cups cooked, seasoned sushi rice
¼ cup finely diced tomatoes
¼ cup small diced avocado
Sriracha mayonnaise (see recipe below)
Julienne crispy wonton
1. Just before serving, gently mix together the tuna, onion, ogo, soy sauce, scallions and inamona. Season to taste with the chilies and sea salt.
2. To serve, spoon sushi rice into individual bowls. Top with poke, then tomatoes and avocado. Drizzle with unagi sauce and Sriracha mayonnaise, and top with crispy wonton strips. Serve right away.
To make Chef Peter Abarcar’s Sriracha mayonnaise, add 2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce and the juice of half a lemon to 1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise.