How To Make Poke At Home Just Like The Hawaiians Do

Frankly, I don’t know why poke, Hawaii’s raw fish salad, took so long to become popular outside of the Islands.

Sushi and ceviche, other raw seafood preparations, have long been popular on the mainland while poke has remained Hawaii’s well-kept secret. Though it isn’t really a secret there, but a staple. Sold by the pound and scooped into plastic containers in the deli section of supermarkets, it is as common as potato salad in Honolulu, where I live.

While elsewhere in the America you might bring chips and salsa to a party, in Hawaii, it’s likely to be poke. But poke is much more versatile, the way you wish your little black dress or dark-wash denim were. Here, poke is served everywhere, from tailgate parties to weddings to fine dining restaurants.

The most popular style of poke is remarkably simple, just five ingredients: raw tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet onion and green onion (scallion). But it is easy to see the appeal: the lushness of fresh fish gives way to the crunch and bite of the onions, the seasonings lending salt, umami and a nutty richness.

Because poke is so simple, it is easy to make at home. Served over rice or other grains or greens, poke becomes a meal that feels simultaneously casual and luxe.

Here’s how to start making your own poke bowl:

  • Think about your fish. Or not.

While poke is most often made with raw, cubed tuna, it doesn’t have to be, especially when you don’t have easy access to sashimi-grade fish, or when you are looking for a less-expensive option. You can substitute cooked shrimp, firm tofu (atsuage, a variety of fried firm tofu available at Japanese supermarkets, is terrific in poke if you can find it); cooked mushrooms (such as portobello and shiitake) and even cooked beets (their ruby colour makes for a great, fake tuna). If you have your heart set on raw fish, previously frozen salmon is a good, economical choice.

  • Add texture to each bite.

The Hawaiian word poke (PO-kay) means “to slice,” and that might be the thread that ties all poke together, because these days, you can find almost anything in it. It doesn’t have to be raw and it doesn’t require seafood. Pretty much all poke is cut into bite-size pieces, about 3/4-inch chunks, and the rest of the ingredients, such as onions, should be chopped and evenly distributed. Think about adding crunch in each mouthful.