Friday, July 26, 2013

Ahi Poke (With Sweet Onions & Lemon Cucumbers!)

Whenever I go back to Hawai'i, I can barely contain my happy squeals every time I enter a fish market. My eyes zero in on the poke counter, and I could order crates of this Hawaiian fish dish if only they'd let me. It can be found all over the islands...luaus, beachside picnics, pupu platters...Even the neighborhood Safeways have their own poke counters! (Mainland grocery stores, step your game up!)

"Poke" (po-keh) is a Hawaiian word that roughly translates to "cut into pieces." Local seafood, from ahi tuna to octopus, is chopped up and turned into a refreshing, simply seasoned salad. Different places and different chefs all make their own variations. Auntie might add kukui nuts, and Uncle might add chilis. (Korean-style from Koloa Fish Market is amazing!) Today's recipe, though, is for my favorite basic combination. Pieces of fresh tuna are tossed with onions, seaweed, and cucumber, then it's all seasoned with shoyu, sesame oil, and red Hawaiian sea salt.


Ahi tuna, sesame, and Hawaiian sea salt are no strangers around these blog-parts, but a couple of today's essentials are pretty new. While shopping at my local Nugget Market, I noticed that the Walla Walla onions were on sale. Walla Wallas are a sweet onion, with a mild kick. They are reminiscent of Maui onions, which are a popular addition to most poke recipes. Shaving them nice and thin keeps them from overpowering the dish.

Lemon cucumbers are also making their M&PT debut! As I browsed through the produce section to look for regular, green cucumbers, I found their smaller round relatives! I pulled out my iPhone and had to Google these things immediately. (I know, I can barely remember life before smart phones either...)

This variety tastes clean and crisp. Its thin skin means that it lacks the bitterness that cucumbers (with their peels) often have. After posting a picture of the bright yellow heirlooms on Twitter, my friend Ally excitedly told me that she eats them like apples! I love a refreshing crunch in my poke, and these "lemons" add a nice bite and gorgeous color.


For my choice of fish, ahi tuna wins every time. Ahi is rich and meaty, but it's still mild and not overly fishy!


In Hawai'i, you can just walk right down to the pier and pick from the daily catch, and trust me, I wish that all of us mainlanders could have that luxury! My rule of thumb when shopping for ahi? The flesh should be red and firm. Try to stay away from dull and gray.

Aside from the ahi and vegetables, ogo seaweed also provides some classic poke flavor and texture. You can find it dried and in packets at most Asian markets.

The ogo only needs to soak in room temperature water for about 5 minutes, and it plumps back up again! When fresh seaweed is hard to find, which is often the case for me, this is a quick-fix ingredient. Likewise, already-prepared Ocean Salad would be a tasty substitute as well. (Check the sushi section at your local grocery store!) Seaweed has a unique, briny flavor, the kind of saltiness that makes perfect sense for this island original and the oceanside settings its typically served in.


To season the poke, I used a blend of sesame oil, red Hawaiian sea salt, and shoyu. Aloha Shoyu has a lower salt content and milder flavor. Regular soy sauce would taste too harsh against the raw fish.

Also, packets of ogo are commonly found in premeasured "poke mixes" (which is the amount that I used). Those mixes come with the sea salt already blended with crushed red pepper flakes. You can use that seasoning instead, if you prefer an extra spicy kick.

Finally, all of the ingredients are tossed together in a large bowl. Then, the poke should be covered and chilled for 20-30 minutes. This allows the fish to marinate and for all of the flavors to really come together.

Serve the poke with wonton crisps or taro chips as a casual appetizer, or make it a meal with sushi rice and furikake sprinkled on top! It'd be great with a chilled bottle of Big Wave or a glass of Plantation Iced Tea to wash it all down. With every bite, I just imagine myself sitting outside, hair flowing in the breeze, and listening to the waves crash. (I totally give you permission to play a Jake Shimabukuro album while you eat. A little ukulele ambience never hurt anyone...)

This poke is a tasty balance of fresh fish, crunchy cucumbers, crisp and sweet onions, and savory sesame and shoyu. The subtle brininess of the seaweed gives the dish that extra umami element...or, as the Hawaiians say, ono! Delicious!



Ahi Poke with Cucumber & Sweet Onion (serves at least 4)


Print Recipe
Ingredients:
1 small packet Dried Ogo Seaweed
Water, for soaking
1 1/2 lbs Fresh Ahi Tuna, cubed
1/3 cup Chopped Green Onions
1/2 cup Shaved Sweet Onions (Maui or Walla Walla)
1 cup Diced Cucumbers
1 tsp Red Hawaiian Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
2 tbsp Low Sodium Soy Sauce (Aloha Shoyu)
2 tbsp Sesame Oil
Toasted Sesame Seeds, for garnish (Optional)
  1. Place the ogo seaweed in a small bowl, and completely cover it with water. Soak for about 5 minutes to let the seaweed rehydrate. Then, drain all of the water. Roughly chop into 1-in pieces.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped seaweed, cubed ahi, green onions, sweet onions, and cucumbers. Season with salt, pepper (if using), shoyu, and sesame oil. Toss lightly just to combine evenly. Cover and chill the poke for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, and serve with wonton crisps, taro chips, or sushi rice! Enjoy!

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