All right, I may be mixing up my islands with that headline; poke is Hawaiian, not Jamaican, but with poke being the latest food fad, I just couldn’t resist. I should amend that to say it’s trending on the mainland, because in Hawaii, it’s long been a standard dish, as ubiquitous at parties as spinach artichoke dip or potato salad. Poke (pronounced poh-keh) is a raw fish salad, usually served as an appetizer or over rice for a light lunch.
The name comes from the Hawaiian word meaning to slice, cut or section. And that’s exactly what poke is; diced fish with a little bit of seasoning. Some say the dish began with fishermen chopping the leftover scraps from their catch to serve as a snack. The traditional dish uses aku, an oily variety of tuna, but on the mainland, most dishes feature readily available ahi tuna.
For poke, fish is traditionally tossed with a few key seasoning ingredients just before serving. The key to poke is that it must be freshly made. If the dish sits too long, the fish will begin to marinate and become more like a ceviche. While a number of restaurants already offer poke on the menu, two restaurants specializing in poke have already opened in Fort Lauderdale, and if they’re successful, we’re certain to see more. As with any raw fish, make certain the product is fresh and conditions are sanitary. If you walk into a poke place and it smells like fish; turn around and walk out, fresh fish has almost no smell. Both of the new(ish) Fort Lauderdale poke restaurants have passed my smell test and if you’re looking to try Hawaii’s favorite meal, check them out.
Raw Poke Bar
1304 E. Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale
Poke here is made from either tuna or salmon, with marinated tofu subbing in a vegetarian version. Dishes are prepared atop rice or wrapped in a burrito and are priced from $12 to $16. There are a number of signature bowls and burritos, or you may create your own. The only other menu offering is a variety of gelati for dessert. The small storefront, restaurant located in the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center (the restaurant is Kosher) offers limited seating.
666 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Located in a slightly larger storefront (formerly occupied by Primo Hoagies) Poke House offers a much more pleasant atmosphere, with lots of reclaimed wood and even a table made out of a surfboard! The menu is also more expansive. Poke here is made with a choice of tuna, salmon and hamachi, as well as a tofu version. In addition to build your own versions, there are specialty bowls, priced from $14-$16. The bowls feature a choice of white, green or black rice, quinoa or baby kale. Poke is also served in tacos, atop nachos or in steamed Asian baos for $9-$10. Side dishes include crab salad and seaweed salad.
Do the Hokey Poke
Poke is a simple dish, made with five key ingredients.
1. Fish: if making poke at home, you must use fresh fish that has been properly butchered, handled and stored. Since the term "sashimi-grade" isn't regulated, you might find fish labeled for sashimi that could be questionable, while fresh (never frozen) fish at the supermarket might be a superior grade. The best way to be sure of the quality of the fish is to head to a specialty market with high enough turnover that you can be assured that the fish on display is fresh. If you’re using tuna to prepare poke, look for pieces that have relatively little connective tissue (the white membrane that separates muscles), it can make the fish tough and chewy. Look for a deep red color from the back or side of the fish. I always make certain my knife is sharp and I rub the blade with a piece of raw lemon before slicing. To cut the cubes for poke, first slice with the grain into strips, then cube each slice. The same technique applies to salmon and hamachi.
2. Onions: mince a sweet onion. Maui onions are traditional, but if you can’t find them, Vidalia or Bermuda are good substitutes, even a shallot will do in a pinch. Some like to mix the sweet onion with a bit of scallions or, if available, spring ramps.
3. Seaweed: in Hawaii it’s always the variety known as limu. It’s hard to find on the mainland and you can substitute strips of nori or furikake. Your best bet is to head to a Japanese grocery store and ask for hijiki. There may only be a dash of seaweed in the dish, but it is imperative.
4. Dressing: make your own with a little low-sodium soy sauce (about ¼ cup), sesame oil (1 tsp.) and a touch of honey (1/2 tsp.). You don’t need much, just enough to lightly coat and flavor the fish.
5. Sesame seeds: a mixture of black and white is best, toast them for a few second in a hot pan and sprinkle over the dish.
If you plan on serving this for a party, prepare everything and place in bowls, cover and refrigerate the fish. Toss it all together at the table and serve over rice or spoon onto fried wonton skins.