“The older I get, the less I cook my fish.” ~ Tom Nelson, The Outdoor Line
Food trends can run the gamut from wonderful to downright annoying. We can thank food trends for popularizing sushi in this country, making cilantro widely available, and bringing us the gift that keeps on giving, Molten Chocolate Cake. Of course, we can also thank them for Bacon Wrapped Kale & Nutella Cupcakes. So obviously, there are limits.
Recently, we have been in the midst of a Poke trend, and for this one, I am ON BOARD. Poke restaurants and stands have popped up here and there. Hell, there’s even a Poke station at Costco these days. And I have to say, all things considered, their stuff isn’t half bad.
Of course, this brings us back to the underlying theme of Bait 2 Plate: nothing tastes as good as what you make with your own catch. Plus, while freshness is always very important when dealing with seafood, it’s doubly so when you are eating it raw. There’s a reason why many of us bring along a little wasabi and soy when we go out on a tuna trip. Fresh out of the ocean sashimi is something that few people besides anglers have the privilege to experience. Don’t pass up the chance to try on-ocean sashimi if you have the opportunity.
Happiness is a fish box loaded with tuna.
When I was working on this recipe, there were a few aspects of it I wanted to make sure I got right before I presented it to all of you.
First, as I just said, freshness was foremost on my mind. That means it needed to be a practical recipe. I wanted to construct a make ahead marinade that you can have ready when you get home with your catch. I don’t know about you, but after getting up at fishing o’clock, spending a day on the ocean, and then a couple hours drive home, then having a well deserved drink, and a hot shower, and another drink … I’m not always in the mood to start cooking. Still, I’ve got this very fresh tuna on hand, and I do want dinner to go with that next drink. If you have the Poke marinade already made, you need only dice up a little tuna, toss it with a some marinade, and enjoy your dinner with … oh heck, one more drink. I held one batch of the marinade in the fridge for two weeks before I mixed it up with fresh fish. It was awesome.
Second, I wanted a recipe that would work as well with salmon as it does with tuna. Salmon Poke is also really good, and I, like many PNW anglers, have more frequent access to salmon than I do to tuna.
Finally, as there are so many places to get Poke out there, I wanted be certain that this recipe was a home run, worthy of your fresh catch. I did a lot of testing and sampling working this out. That was a very pleasant part of the process.
Most Poke recipes you’ll find are simple “mix and stir” affairs. I found that gently heating the oils, and using that to “bloom” the spice of the chili flakes, as well as toast the sesame seeds, brings a nice boost of flavor. While that oil is still very warm, I also add the ginger and garlic to make them even more fragrant. Additionally, I include cilantro in my recipe. That is decidedly not traditional, but I really love what cilantro brings to the dish. If you are one of those folks who doesn’t like cilantro, feel free to omit it. You’ll still end up with some delicious Poke. Soy sauce is a big part of the flavor profile for Poke. Feel free to use the ubiquitous Kikoman soy sauce (I recommend the low sodium stuff) for this, it’ll be great. But if you had ever felt inclined to buy one of those gourmet, brewed, Japanese soy sauces, this would be an excellent time to use it.
But don’t take my word for it. Try for yourself….
1 Tbs Sesame Oil 1/2 Tbs Canola Oil 1/4 – 1/2 tsp Crushed Chili Flakes (add more if you like spicy) 1 Tbs Sesame Seeds 1 & 1/2 Tbs Grated Fresh Ginger 1 Tbs Minced Fresh Garlic 1/4 cup Soy Sauce 1 & 1/2 Tbs Sriracha Sauce Zest of 1/2 Lemon 2 each Scallions, very thinly sliced 1/2 cup Chopped Cilantro 2 lbs Fresh Tuna or Salmon, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Put the oil in a small sauté pan and place it over medium heat. You want to heat the oil until it “shimmers”, meaning you want it hot to the point it begins to gather up a little in the pan, but not to the point it begins to smoke. If it starts to smoke, pour it out and start over with fresh oil.
Add in the chili flakes and sesame seeds, and begin swirling the pan immediately. They should lightly sizzle. Continue swirling the pan gently until the sesame seeds just barely begin to brown a little. This should only take about a minute. Immediately remove the pan from the heat.
Once off the heat, continue swirling or stirring the seeds and chili flakes for one minute, allowing the pan to cool a little. Stir in the ginger and garlic; they probably won’t sizzle, and they definitely shouldn’t brown. The goal here is to have the still very warm oil bring make the ginger and garlic even more fragrant. If it looks like the oil is still too hot, and the garlic is about to brown, quickly add in the soy sauce to cool it down.
Assuming the oil wasn’t too hot, let the ginger and garlic steep in the oil for 2 minutes, then stir in the soy sauce, Sriracha, and lemon zest. At this point, the marinade can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
When you are ready to finish the dish, add in the cilantro and scallions. I like to reserve a little bit of the green slices of scallion to use as garnish. Pour the marinade over the diced tuna or salmon, and gently stir so the fish is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. You’ve got Poke!
All right, let’s talk accompaniments. As good as Poke is, most of us don’t eat it (that much) by itself off a spoon. So the first thing you want to consider is how you want to eat it. I actually really like eating Poke with tortilla or wonton chips, like really delicious seafood salsa. It also works over salad or in a lettuce wrap. But served on a bed of white rice is pretty standard, and for good reason. It’s a great combo, whether you do the Poke Bowl thing, or get all fancy like I did in the top photo, and form it with a ring mold.
Avocado goes fantastically with Poke. I almost always have the two together. Try tossing diced avocado with a little salt and a squeeze of lemon. Then you can serve it over, under, or mixed into the Poke.
Notice those little brown crunchy bits I sprinkled on on top of the Poke in the photos above? That’s crispy shallots and ginger. It’s a very simple touch, but adds a lot of flavor and texture to the dish. Just finely mince fresh shallots and fresh ginger (I keep them separate until I’m ready to add them to the plate) then deep fry them in 350 oil until brown and crispy, about 90 seconds.
*VERY IMPORTANT WARNING* When you deep fry something that is cut very small like these minced veggies, it will lose all its water very quickly when dropped into frying oil. Meaning that the oil can boil up very high, very fast. If you choose to make the crispy shallots and/or ginger, be sure you use a high sided pot, and add the veggies into the oil a little bit at a time.
Aside from that, as I mentioned, I like adding some slivered scallion on top. You can also add more chopped cilantro and/or some thinly sliced sweet onion. Many recipes call for Maui sweet onions, but I say find the best quality sweet onions that are close to you. Here in Washington, we have Walla Walla Sweets, and they go great with Poke.
I’m going to leave you with one more presentation option. This is Salmon and Tuna Poke, with Sushi Rice, Cucumber, and Avocado, rolled in Rice Paper wraps.