Last year, my twin brother returned from a trip to Hawaii and talked not about the dramatic cliffs of Kauai or the striated sunsets over the Pacific, but about the Ahi Poke. “Let’s make it,” he texted in anticipation of his weekend visit to our house. A few minutes later, another text: This time just a recipe link.
I had never made poke. The dish — marinated cubes of raw tuna — seems like one of those things you should attempt for the first time in its place of origin, and making it in, say, a suburb of New York 5,000 miles from Hawaii just didn’t seem like it would work out too well. (I always think of our college friend Luke, who routinely refused bottles of Guinness because he was saving his first sip for his first trip to Ireland. “There’s only one place that is going to happen,” he told me when he was a senior, then threw back a Knickerbocker. (#Massachusetts)
But the Poke recipe my brother sent looked simple enough and it was basically salty, umami-crazy Japanese food, so I knew it was the kind of thing the kids would love. I hit my favorite Asian market in the strip mall two towns over — as noted, a far cry from Kauai — and procured some sushi-grade tuna. My brother showed up with the rest of the ingredients and we put our poke together in about five minutes. This was approximately four and a half minutes longer than it took the five of us to ravage the delicate little starter like a pack of wild dogs. Good thing there was pasta on the menu later.
Ever since then, I feel like the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters — remember how everywhere he went, he saw that creepy Devil’s Tower mountain shape? Well, my Devil’s Tower officially became Ahi Poke. Everywhere I go, every social media platform I browse, every newspaper I read, every cookbook I open up, there it is. Apparently, it’s even merited a trend piece in The New York Times. So I did what any longtime DALS employee would do: I looked at all the versions out there and figured out a way to turn it into a meal that would satisfy the particular brand of hunger that results from a hard-fought soccer match in Long Island. (Code for: They got decimated.) This past Saturday, that meant rice, avocado, loads of vegetables. I got some Furikake and Shiso inspiration from Gwyneth Paltrow’s newest book It’s All Easy (an all-around inspiring collection, by the way) which provided a simple, significant upgrade, but in the recipe below, both are optional. Also, I feel I should mention that the meal elicited the much-coveted review from Andy: “I Could Eat Like This Every Night.” So could I! If only it weren’t for a few minor issues like mercury, endangered fish, and budgets. It is cheaper than a trip to Kauai though.
Before you write in the comment field, “What planet do you live on?” the astute DALS reader will notice that this is a meal tailor made for deconstructing. Just leave the raw fish out of your kid’s bowl if it’s going to incite a riot.
2 cups Japonica or short-grain sushi rice, rinsed well under cold water
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 pound sashimi grade tuna (or about 3 to 4 ounces per person) minced into bite-size cubes as shown
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 Japanese cucumbers, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
1 bunch scallions, light green and white parts only, minced
1 to 2 shiso leaves (optional), chopped into thin ribbons (like basil)
Crumbled dried seaweed or Furikake (Japanese seasoning usually made with seaweed, sesame, and salt — look for ones without MSG)
squeeze of fresh lime
Cook rice as directed. Remove from heat. While the rice is cooking, place the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook until the sugar and salt have dissolved, about one minute. Drizzle the seasoned vinegar into the hot rice slowly, tossing as you go. You should have four cups of sticky rice.
While the rice is cooking, toss the tuna with the soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. When ready to eat, heap rice into bowls, divide tuna on top, and have diners choose their favorite toppings.