Taking the fear out of the fear factor that is raw fish.
by Alexander Quebec
By now, if you’ve lived in California long enough, you’ve heard your friends talk about poke. Before you think its about cute, furry yellow mouse animals who shoot thunder from their cheeks, it isn’t. Poke is a dish of raw fish hailing from across the pacific, from the little island chain known as Hawaii.
My first time hearing about Poke was from friends of mine who I describe as more culinarily adventurous than me (i.e. eating animals that are still in an identifiable state). I have to admit the idea of eating sashimi still makes me nauseous and that my first time eating oysters on the half shell left me feeling a bit ill; in spite of that, I decided that I would have to give Poke a fair shot.
I went to Pokebowl in San Jose on a friend’s recommendation. I found out that said friend eats there on a very frequent basis, and so, I took that as a sign that the place was legit. Long story short, it was pretty good. I enjoyed the complexity of the spices mixed in with the mellowness of the ahi tuna and robust salmon. I ordered my bowl with lots of shrimp, avocado, spicy mayo and some furikake seeds.
So you might be asking, what is Poke?
The dish, popular here in California and elsewhere in the USA, originates from Hawaii. Poke is a verb in the Hawaiian language that means “To section” or “To slice or cut”. Tuna poke is called Ahi, while Limu poke is made with seaweed. Traditional Poke is made with a fish that has been gutted, skinned and deboned, then sliced along the backbone and filleted, then served with sea salt, candle nut, seaweed and limu. After the arrival of the Europeans in the 19th century, vegetables such as tomatoes and onions were introduced. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, however, that the modern form we are accustomed to came about into existence, according to food historian Rachel Laudan.
The Science of Poke
Why can you eat Poke and not get sick from raw fish? There are two factors going into it: Temperature and acidity. Freezing fish under a specific temperature (4 degrees Fahrenheit) will likely kill most of the microorganisms that harm humans. To a lesser extent, the soy sauce also plays a part. Soy sauce is fairly acidic with a pH level around 4.4 to 5.4 (harmful to most microorganisms), which kills the bacteria and helps the fish undergo a process called denaturing, which is cooking the fish without conventional heat.
To avoid food poisoning from raw fish, however, chefs across the board agree that the best practice is to get the fish as fresh as possible.
Making your own Poke
If you’re going to attempt to make your own Poke at home, there are few things you need to know.
First off, the type of fish you use matters. Ideally, Ahi or yellowfin tuna are the best fish to use for poke; make sure that they are fresh enough as to have little to no smell at all, have a crimson red color and are firm to the touch. In reality, almost any fish could be used, but the fish with fattier meats will provide better results.
Secondly, The rice will help maintain the balance of flavors, so make sure you use some rice vinegar and chopped kombu (or seaweed). If you can find it, use Japanese sushi rice, or any long grain rice. You could even use brown rice if you want a healthier alternative.
Lastly, For the sauce, anything goes. If you want to keep it traditional, use a simple soy and sesame sauce, then add green onions, sea salt and any other seasonings you can think of. You can garnish with some avocado slices to complete your pokebowl.
If you’re in the San Jose Area, here’s a video of a Poke restaurant we did a while back, check it out as your first stop on a Poke Adventure.
Excited and ready to try some Poke? It’s the freshest seafood treat you’ll eat this side of the pacific. Go forth and adventure on dear reader!
Photo credit: luckywelive808.com via Pinterest