THE HISTORY & TRUTH ABOUT POKE
Poke, pronounced (poh-kay) and rhymes with okay, has grown significantly in popularity in the United States, especially in 2016. It has grown so mainstream that you will see poke bars in supermarket delis across the US. It isa marinated raw-fish salad and the origins of poke stretch back to the early days of Hawaiian civilization, when people ate raw fish with such seasonings as algae and Hawaiian salt. The Hawaiian work poke is loosely translated as “to chop” or “to crosscut” which probably referred to the way it is prepared, like a chopped salad. It is highly reveled in Hawaii as the burger is in the mainland US. It is very simple to prepare as it uses few ingredients.
Poke has definitely made it mainstream and is surely a hot ticket item as of late. We are seeing “chef-y” versions across the states influenced by different Asian cultures with the basic cubed fish, soy sauce and sesame oil plus lots of different bits and pieces of goodness tossed in for their own variance. With its popularity and its spread into deli cases, which are good, but not even close to how good this dish is when eaten freshly made. Newly mixed poke is all bright and shiny. When it has sat for a while, all those flavors mix and muddle…not so yummy.
This means you have to make it at home or have it made for you fresh. All you need is access to fresh fish which we all have now with Orca Direct (2 day and overnight delivery). You must use well butchered, well-handled quality fish. Although the terms ‘sushi grade’ or ‘ sashimi grade’ are often use the FDA does not have a clear defined stand for them.
So let me get technical for a moment, with the help of our Quality Assurance Director Justine Reynolds. The category ‘sashimi-grade’ isn’t regulated. The primary concern of the FDA is referred to as the “parasite destruction guarantee”. This is accomplished by freezing at -31°F or below and storing at -4°F or below for 24 hours OR a few certain variances of this time/ temperature rule which is sufficient to kill parasites present by making the fish safe for eating raw when defrosted properly.
With all of that said, once caught the fish should be frozen shortly after being caught to maintain the peak of freshness. We all have faith that our favorite sushi shops and fish markets are doing the best they can to sell and serve us the best product possible—their reputations are dependent upon it but the truth is no system is perfect and at times fish can be mishandled somewhere in the distribution chain. The verdict? The proof is in the fish…if it looks and smells good, it just may be good. Get your nose involved and ask to smell it up close and let us know if it isn’t up to snuff! We’re here to listen.
THE INGREDIENTS AND YOUR POKE RECIPE
When selecting tuna for poke, look for pieces that have little or no connective tissue – the white membranes that separate muscle groups- because this will make the cubes tough and chewy. The deep red, lean meat is ideal- using a sharp knife, first cut strips then half inch cubes.
The onions are a major ingredient in poke and the sweets should be used: Do as the Hawaiians do—Sweet maui’s , vidalia’s or walla walla’s- cut small, not fine, with a very sharp knife. Yellow onions are too strong and pungent and will wreck your palate, ruining your tuna experience. The green of the onion is just as important, thinly sliced.
The rest is a simple gathering of items that should be in your kitchen – soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Some folks like a bit of sweetness to cut the salty soy-ness, so a bit of honey may be in order. Others like to add chili flake to add a bit of fire (garlic chili sauce is really good). Some like a bit of seaweed, like hijiki, or wakame, rehydrated to add a bit of sea flavor. Here is where your inner chef can come in. ITS ALL GOOD – FIND THE WAY YOU LIKE IT – IT’S YOUR POKE.
There are only two key things here – fresh tuna (or fish of your choice), made fresh… then it gets fun – here’s a quick recipe:
1# safely thawed, Orca Bay tuna or salmon, cut into ½” cubes
2oz sweet onion, cut ¼”dice
2 green onion, sliced thin
1t sesame seeds
2T soy sauce
2t sesame oil
1t chili flake (optional)
Kosher salt to taste
–toss like salad and eat immediately
– IT’S YOUR POKE
The use of the word “poke’” has gone beyond tuna to encompass all “cubed fish” – and it is being used in a big way in restaurants, bars and food trucks alike. Not only tuna, but
Hamachi (amberjack/yellowtail), Salmon, Octopus, Shrimp and Clam are being used regularly as poke and are all equally delicious with each having different ingredients to show off the flavor of the fish.
So remember – It’s just food with some really clever folks out there showing their creativity in a world of beautiful, endless flavor combinations. Let’s see yours. Show us your poke on Instagram by tagging us (@orcabayseafoods) and using the hashtag, #heresmypoke. We are known to surprise people who share because sharing is caring!
Chef Bo Maisano & Justine Reynolds