On the US West Coast, it is one of the “musts” of fashionable eating. The worldwide success of raw fish continues in the form of Hawaiian "poke" recipe, a salad from the Hawaii islands. Following the mainstreaming of sushi, the comeback of Mediterranean-style carpaccio and the widespread diffusion of Peruvian ceviche recipe, it is now the turn of the Pacific archipelago.
Poke – sometimes redubbed as “poki”, and often revisited – consists of little cubes of raw fish, seasoned and macerated with various ingredients, usually containing soy sauce and/or sesame oil, sea salt, spring onion and/ or onion (in particular the sweet Maui variety widely grown in the Hawaii islands – where incidentally onions were not introduced before the 1800s). The other ingredients may vary and include chilli pepper, sweet pepper, avocado, algae (especially the local red alga called Limu), sesame seeds, fish roe, macadamia nuts and “Inamona”, a condiment made from toasted and chopped candlenuts.
What is Hawaiian Poke?
In brief, a simple and exotic raw fish salad that is healthy and fresh, in the fashion of contemporary cuisine. It is basically very similar to the Japanese dish of “bara chirachi”, which is no more than sushi served in a bowl like a salad (“chiraci “ means “scattered”). Dressed with various toppings (usually 9), paradoxically, in the most common version served in its homeland, it ends up by containing no seafood at all but, unlike the Hawaiian speciality, it is inevitably rice-based.
the secret? the way ingredients are cut
The selection of ingredients used to prepare poke recipe in the contemporary rendering of poke is actually highly conditioned by the influence of Japanese cuisine and that of other Asian countries; for instance, wasabi and Korean kimci are highly popular. As in every raw fish speciality worthy of its name, the way it is cut is of fundamental importance: the Hawaiian term “poke” does not refer to the dish itself but to the “act of slicing, sectioning or transversally cutting the ingredients into small pieces”. This is the secret of those delicious Hawaiian morsels, whose size varies according to taste.
Traditionally, poke is served already made up but those restaurants and bars to have introduced it already often opt for a “do it yourself” solution, leaving customers to choose from the various ingredients on display and to combine them as they prefer.
Poke Recipe: Tuna or Salmon?
Even the varieties of fish and seafood may vary: poke was originally intended to be a fresh yellow fin tuna salad (“ahi” in the Hawaiian language), but it is now also served with salmon, as well as octopus, crab, muscles or clams. And this is one of its most appealing features: there is no living creature in our seas immune from the risk of ending up in a Hawaiian-style salad. Indeed, right from the start, the locals always prepared it with whatever the fishermen brought home, starting from coral reef fish.
At this point, it is easy to see how every chef with a sharpened poke knife can let his imagination run free in preparing original ingredient combinations and garnishes, for instance the one with oil and coconut milk. Los Angeles – a metropolis in which many culinary trends see the light before spreading elsewhere in the United States – is certainly out front in presenting this alternative way of eating raw fish, which has already landed in other world food capitals, such as Singapore. Its widespread diffusion throughout the world now appears to be inevitable.