What Is Ahi Poke, Anyway?

Think: sushi meets the the burrito bowl. Here's everything you need to know about the trendy dish, plus how to make it at home.

Wisefish Poke Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl
Photo: wisefishpoke.com

A classic Hawaiian preparation, poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a salad of cubed raw fish marinated in sesame oil or soy sauce. Though traditionally made from ahi (yellowfin tuna), salmon or tofu are common substitutions, and the dish can be eaten on its own, or over white rice, noodles, or even spiraled vegetables. In other words: customization is the name of the game.

Poke has long been a popular favorite in Hawaii, but in the past year, restaurants and food trucks dedicated to the dish have begun popping up all across the mainland, too. "Sushi made people comfortable with eating high-quality raw fish," explains Drew Crane, owner of Wisefish Poké, a New York City-based seafood shop. "And healthy bowls are so big right now. It just made sense for the trend to catch."

If you're curious to see what the buzz is about, but don't have a poké restaurant in your neighborhood yet, the good news is that it's actually quite easy to make at home. (And there's no sushi mat required!)

Here's how.

Choosing the Fish

  • Fresh is best. "Sushi-grade” is an unregulated term, so make sure to ask your fishmonger (or whoever is behind the fish counter at the supermarket) for the freshest fish they have. If you don’t have access to fresh fish, it’s also ok to buy individually quick frozen (IFQ) fillets.
  • Buy large fish. Center-cut yellowfin is most commonly used for poke, but other large fish like salmon also work wonderfully. Just make sure your fillet is wide and thick enough to trim into 1-inch cubes. Alternatively, small shellfish like scallops or shrimp can also be a delicious option.
  • Vegetarian is ok. Don't do meat? You can marinate tofu, beets, or portobello mushrooms the same way you would fish.

Preparing the Fish

  • Remove any connective tissue. Use a paring knife to remove any white parts or stringy bits from the fillets. They can make the fish chewy and hard to eat.
  • Cube the fillets. Using a sharp chef’s knife, trim the fish into even, clean, 1-inch cubes.

Marinating the Fish

  • Combine soy sauce and sesame oil in a bowl. For every pound of fish you're serving, use ½ cup of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.
  • Don’t marinate for too long. Two hours in the refrigerator should be enough.

Making the Base

  • Sushi rice is traditional. Poké is traditionally served over a bowl of cold, short grain sushi rice, which is small and sticky. (Which makes it easier to pick up with chopsticks!) But if you don’t have sushi rice around, it’s ok to use other types, too.
  • Feel free to branch out. Poke also pairs wonderfully with cold vermicelli noodles, quinoa, spiralized veggies, lettuce and more. Be creative.

Topping the Bowl

  • Keep it simple. Common toppings include sesame seeds, sliced onion, diced scallions, avocado, and fish roe.
  • Or experiment a little. Some tasty options you can usually find in Asian markets are furikake (a Japanese seasoning), pickled ginger, wonton crisps, seaweed, and wasabi.
  • Don't forget texture. Cucumber, edamame, pickled jalapeños, macadamia nuts, radishes, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes can add color and crunch.
  • Don’t forget the sauce. Spicy mayo, ponzu, shoyu, and hot sauce are all fabulous finishing touches.
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