Every time I visit Hawaii, it’s almost a given that I eat myself silly on poke and ceviche. I consider it my civic duty. It’s hard for a land-locked girl to get her hands on super-fresh, good-quality fish, so when I’m on vacation and a mere few steps from the waters of the Pacific, how could I possibly not take advantage? That would be wasteful.
This summer’s trip to Maui was no exception. I’m pretty sure I ate poke or ceviche every day we were there. The first night we arrived and stumbled, plane-weary and bleary-eyed, into one of the hotel restaurants, I was delighted to see ceviche on the menu.
“Oooh! Look!” I squealed. “They have ceviche!”
I’m pretty sure my husband did an internal eyeroll when he heard that, because he knew what was coming: days and days of meals that begin with a shared bowl of raw (pretty much) fish.
My husband enjoys the occasional poke or ceviche appetizer, but he’s not nutso about it like I am. He doesn’t need to make a disgusting glutton of himself whenever he sees it listed on a restaurant menu.
Me? I guess you could say I have a problem.
It was especially a problem because our hotel room came equipped with a refrigerator so I could stash extra bowls of raw (ish) fish in there for convenient midnight (or mid-morning, or mid-afternoon) snacking. My husband finds this practice a little revolting after a few days.
I’d also done a little online sleuthing and discovered that in the town of Napili, a mere 5 minute car ride from the resort, there’s the Napili Market, a smallish grocery/market which specializes in many varieties of takeout poke, made several times fresh daily. For a fraction of what you’d pay in a restaurant. Bonanza! I was, set, man. I loaded up on the tortilla chips and looked forward to all that golf my husband was playing, so I could eat my feast in peace.
You’d think that after my vacation gorge-fest, I wouldn’t crave poke or ceviche until Christmastime at least, but that wasn’t the case. It only took me about a month before I was dreaming of my favorite island treat.
Normally, I’d have to make the drive to the Whole Foods in Boulder to get sushi-quality fish, but lucky for we Longmont-dwellers, we have one small fish market in town, open Tuesday through Saturday, and they carry really incredible product. The market, Blue Reef Seafood, is small, so they run out quickly, but if your timing is right and luck is on your side, you can score a nice fat piece of fresh fish.
My timing was off and so I had to wait a few hours until the delivery guy unloaded his stash of ahi tuna, but I was willing to bide my time and avoid a trip to Boulder and the craziness that is the Whole Foods parking lot. If I’m ever going to be run over by a car, it’s going to be in the parking lot of the Boulder Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, I swear.
A few words about poke. I am very persnickety about my poke, and too many places fuck it up, in my opinion. It goes without saying that you have to use the best fresh fish you can lay your hands on. If you can’t find great, sushi-grade fish, save the poke for another day. Also, do not ruin that lovely piece of fish by overdressing it with too much sesame oil or soy sauce–why invest in awesome product and then overwhelm it with a strong dressing? Gaaa, it pisses me off. Don’t do it. Just the barest kiss of soy and sesame, okay? Don’t muck it up with big quantities of onion or scallion either. Just a teeny bit, cut very small and thin. Once you have your perfect poke, let it sit for just 5 minutes to let everything mingle a bit, and then scarf it down.
You can eat the poke like most Hawaiians do, atop a bowl of freshly cooked rice with some lovely chunks of avocado (and maybe a sprinkling of sesame seed or seaweed). It’s delightful that way and I highly recommend that method.
My favorite way to eat poke, though, is like I eat ceviche–with a nice load of lightly salted tortilla chips. Kind of like build-your-own Hawaiian nachos. I could snack on that all day and only feel the barest amount of guilt.
Use this recipe as a rough guide and customize it a bit if you like–add a bit more lime or some chili flakes for heat, or a bit of minced jalapeno. Just be careful of that sesame oil–it packs a wallop. Use the smallest amount called for, taste it, and then if you want to add a bit more, okay. I won’t kill you. You can also use fresh salmon instead of ahi, but a word of warning–make sure you get sushi-grade salmon from a reputable grocer or market. Raw salmon can be dicey and unless you have a pristine piece of fish, you’ll be spending the evening in a most unpleasant fashion.
The next time a poke craving hits, give this recipe a try. Maybe even break out the grass skirt and the Don Ho music and pretend you’re in Hawaii, just for fun.
serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer
12 ounces sushi-grade ahi tuna
1/3 cup finely diced sweet onion, such as Maui, Vidalia or Walla Walla*
4 teaspoons soy sauce (use tamari if you want gluten-free)
juice of 1/2 a lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (if you like a more pronounced sesame flavor, use 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon honey
crushed red pepper or chile-garlic sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame seed (I like the look of the black sesame seeds)
thinly sliced nori or furikake (optional)
For serving, any of the following:
hot cooked rice
crispy wonton strips
Cut the tuna into 1/2-inch dice.
In a small bowl, combine soy, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, lime juice, honey, kosher salt and chile flakes, if using. Whisk well to combine and pour over tuna. Add in onion and toss to combine. Let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
To serve, sprinkle with nori or furikake, if using and sesame seeds. Top hot cooked rice with diced avocado and poke mixture. Sprinkle crispy wonton strips over.