The poke (pronounced “poh-KAY”) scene hasn’t always looked the way it does today, with bowl shops in shopping centers all over the country offering every imaginable ingredient—miso-lemon mayonnaise, crispy beet chips, zucchini noodles, etc.—to accompany the base of diced raw fish.
Positioned as a healthy alternative to your average fast-food option, the poke bowl has never been trendier. But it can be traced back to a traditional Hawaiian version, which pares down the extras and focuses on good, fresh fish.
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As food writer Martha Cheng explains in The Poke Cookbook: The Freshest Way to Eat Fish (2017), the earliest Hawaiian version of poke dates back to before Captain James Cook and other Westerners arrived on the islands. These early iterations of poke (the word means “to cut or slice into pieces”) were ultrasimple: just raw, shallow-water fish pulled straight from the ocean and tossed with sea salt, seaweed, and ground roasted kukui nuts.
This preparation endures, and you can still find a similar style, called Hawaiian-style poke, sold alongside more modern variations on the islands today (although the fish is more likely to be ahi tuna than shallow-water fish).
Tuna PokeTry this streamlined Hawaiian-style tuna poke.
Ahi shoyu poke, the modern version that’s become Hawaii’s most popular in the last half century or so, is almost as simple as the original. Heavily influenced by Japanese sushi culture, this mix of ahi (yellowfin) tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet onion, scallion, and sometimes chiles is probably the quintessential poke, the foundation upon which every fast-casual chain slinging myriad variations of seafood salads is ultimately built.
And it is a solid foundation. Fresh fish is the bedrock of the recipe, and once you’ve procured it, little else is needed to make your own ultradelicious poke.
Rich, dense, meaty, and clean-tasting, raw yellowfin tuna makes a deeply satisfying base. To that, you need only add a dressing of soy sauce (for seasoning and complex umami), vegetable oil, and toasted sesame oil (for roasty depth), along with crisp, pungent sweet onion and scallion and a touch of heat from fresh ginger, garlic, and pepper flakes.
The macadamia nuts and furikake (optional) in our recipe are delicious additions inspired by the kukui nuts and seaweed from the traditional Hawaiian version.
Watch the video below to see for yourself. There’s no simpler way to create a meal that satisfies so deeply and leaves such a lasting impression. (And when you’re ready to switch things up, try our Salmon Teriyaki Poke, which is just as simple.)