Tuna poke is a specialty of Hawaii, and it is something you need in your life. But, me being me, I make mine spicy tuna poke.
More casual and easier to make than Japanese sashimi, as well as more open to freestyling in the kitchen, poke has very few rules. Pronounced Poe-Kay, poke means “to cut” in Hawaiian, which is the first rule: poke is diced raw fish… although I’ve seen chopped, cooked octopus, too.
Yes, raw. This is one reason why tuna is very commonly used — tuna poke is safe because these species rarely harbor internal parasites. Here is a run-down on food safety for ceviche and other raw fish dishes, if you are interested.
Poke with most other fish needs to be made with previously frozen fish, and yes, you can use frozen tuna for poke. Proper freezing kills the parasites that can make you sick. Regardless, you want to start with very fresh fish you’ve either caught yourself or bought as “sushi grade” from a reputable fishmonger.
If I have to buy it, I like to get the vacuum sealed blocks of tuna in the freezer section of Asian markets, which are usually of very high quality.
A basic, traditional Hawaiian poke bowl is tuna, soy sauce, seaweed, Maui onions, often green onions as well, plus either the local candlenuts, or the easier-to-find Macadamia nuts. You will often see sesame oil and avocado, too.
I like to use a healthy shake of either furikake, a Japanese rice seasoning mix with sesame seeds and dried seaweed, and, for spicy tuna poke, togarashi, which is the Japanese equivalent of Cajun seasoning — a little spicy, very flavorful. You can buy both online, but my local supermarket has both. You can skip them if you want, but you definitely want some heat in there.
Beyond the basics, you can play with tuna poke however you want. Just think about color, texture and flavor. Make every bite fun and interesting.
As for the tuna, yellowfin is most common, but I am using bonito here. Bonito are a smallish tuna very similar to skipjack and blackfin tuna. They are also a species of Least Concern according to the various sustainability organizations, so you can use it as much as you want.
Spicy tuna poke should be served soon after it’s made; it is not like ceviche, where you marinate it a while before serving. And it really needs to be cold. That’s why poke is such a treat for lunch or dinner on a hot day.
Hawaiian Spicy Tuna Poke
- 1 small sweet onion, like a Maui or Vidalia, sliced thin
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 to 2 pounds high-quality tuna, cut into dice
- 3 to 5 thin green onions, or chives, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup Macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
- 1 avocado (slightly underripe), cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon furikake seasoning (optional)
- 2 teaspoons togarashi seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- Slice the onion thinly and soak in the lime juice while you chop and cut everything else. Mix everything together gently in a large bowl, then serve in individual bowls.