JeanMarie Brownson: Hawaiian poke at home

<p>Poke, the Hawaiian word for to slice or to cut, is one of the state’ s signature dishes.</p>

JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

Poke, the Hawaiian word for to slice or to cut, is one of the state’ s signature dishes.

The first time I saw the poke fish counter at a supermarket in Hawaii, I flipped. At more than 6 feet long, the counter held a dozen pans of uncooked tuna and salmon marinated in a dozen different ways.

I purchased the market’s versions of raw tuna with soy and wasabi, tuna with teriyaki, salmon with red chile and avocado, salmon busy with sesame and more. Heavenly.

Poke, the Hawaiian word for to slice or to cut, is one of the state’s signature dishes. A mix of a traditional Hawaiian technique with Japanese ingredients, at its most basic, poke is a combination of super-fresh, luxuriously-rich, raw fish with a tipple of sesame oil and soy sauce. A match made in heaven.

Happily, top-quality raw fish, suitable for poke, can be found on the mainland in many Asian markets and in the freezer aisle of specialty markets. The most common fish for poke is sushi-grade ahi tuna or yellowfin tuna; salmon also is delicious here. Talk to the folks in the seafood department at your local store for guidance. If there is an in-house sushi counter, they can direct you as to which fish to purchase for raw consumption. Use your nose; the fish should smell fresh — not fishy. The color should be rich, not gray. Minimal white striations (connective tissue) ensures the tenderest bite.

Use a super sharp knife to cut the boneless, skinless fish into 1/2-inch cubes. Then toss in a marinade of sesame oil, soy and red chile. While the fish marinates (from 30 minutes to several hours), prepare some slightly sweetened sushi rice and an assortment of toppings for do-it-yourself rice bowls.

If tuna or salmon are not options, substitute peeled, cooked shrimp or scallops here. Meatless bowls can be made by marinating cubes of firm tofu or roasted eggplant in place of seafood.

Spicy Tuna and Avocado Rice Bowls with Pickled Shallot and Egg

Makes 3 servings

Note: Always thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator to help preserve texture. Leftover pickled shallots can be used in salads and on sandwiches.

  • 3 or 4 large shallots, 6 ounces total, very thinly sliced
  • 6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
  • 2 pieces frozen or super-fresh, skinless ahi tuna fillet (or sushi-grade salmon), 12 ounces total
  • 2 tablespoons organic soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon togarashi chili pepper seasoning or finely crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 large eggs
  • Vegetable cooking spray or oil
  • Spicy Mayo, see recipe
  • 1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled
  • 1 medium-size ripe avocado, halved, pitted
  • 3 or 4 green onions, trimmed

Optional toppings:

  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Crumbled nori
  • Pickled ginger slices

1. For pickled shallots, put the slices into a bowl. Cover with boiling water and then immediately drain. Shake off excess water. Return shallots to bowl and stir in 4 tablespoons of the vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir well and let stand 15 minutes or up to 1 hour. Refrigerate covered for up to a week.

2. Cook rice in rice cooker according to manufacturer’s directions (or cook on stovetop according to package directions). Transfer cooked rice to a wide bowl. Fluff rice with fork while drizzling in the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar. Let cool to room temperature, fluffing it often to release the steam. Use rice at room temperature.

3. While rice cools, cut fish into 1/2-inch pieces. Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds and chili flakes in bottom of a glass or stainless steel bowl. Add fish pieces and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare other bowl ingredients. (or refrigerate up to several hours; serve at room temperature.)

4. Beat eggs together with 1 tablespoon water. Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Spray with vegetable spray or oil. Add beaten eggs. Swirl pan to thinly spread out eggs. Cook on low, without stirring, until set but not brown, about 2 minutes. Lift up the edge of the eggs with a spatula and flip to cook the other side a little. Slide out of the pan onto a cutting board. Let cool. Roll up the egg and slice it thinly crosswise to make thin strips.

5. Make Spicy Mayo. Use a vegetable peeler to make long cucumber strips and roll the strips (or dice the cucumber into 1/4-inch pieces). Cut avocado into 1/2-inch pieces. Thinly slice green onions on the diagonal. Set everything out in small bowls.

6. To assemble each serving, put 2 large scoops of cooled rice into the bottom of a deep soup bowl. Top with 1/3 of the fish mixture, then top with some of the pickled shallots, cucumber, avocado and green onions. Sprinkle with cilantro, sesame seeds, crumbled nori. Drizzle generously with Spicy Mayo and serve with pickled ginger.

SPICY MAYO: Mix 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 1 to 2 tablespoons red pepper hot sauce (I like piri piri hot sauce here).

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)