Hawaii’s Soul Food

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Photograph by Marcus Nilsson

Big, Chilled ruby cubes of tuna, drizzled with a sheen of soy sauce and sesame oil, and flecked with green onions and shards of macadamia nuts: Such are the pleasures of poke. Considered Hawaii's soul food, poke (which means "piece" in native Hawaiian) was originally made by fishermen who snacked on the cutoffs of their catches after seasoning them with salt, seaweed, and kukui — an island nut so fatty it can burn like a candle. But like the islands themselves, poke is astonishingly diverse, incorporating flavors from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and even the mainland U.S.

Maybe because it's so delicious and so infinitely variable, poke is having a moment — with poke restaurants, poke bars, and poke trucks blanketing the West Coast and quickly heading east. But you don't have to wait for one to open near you. Poke is almost too easy to prepare. This classic tuna-shoyu version, courtesy of esteemed Honolulu chef Chris Kajioka, can get you started. But don't be shy about changing things up and playing with different seafood — salmon works well — and seasonings. Just be sure to use the freshest fish possible: Buy it from a good, busy fish counter and give it a sniff — if it smells clean and sweet, you're good to go.

Shoyu Poke [Serves 2 to 4]

  • 1 lb very fresh raw tuna
  • ¼ cup high-quality soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup finely chopped toasted macadamia nuts
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Steamed rice for serving

Cut tuna into ¾-inch cubes, removing any tough white tendons. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, most of the scallions, and most of the nuts, and season to taste with salt. (Depending on the saltiness of your soy sauce, adding salt may not be necessary.) Marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes to 3 hours, and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving. Top with remaining scallions and nuts, and serve over warm rice.

The Poke Variations

Crunchier: Add diced cucumber.

Richer: Mix in diced avocado, coconut milk, or mayonnaise.

Funkier: Add chopped kimchi.

Spicier: Sprinkle in chili sauce or grated fresh ginger.

Meatier: Grill, char, or sear the fish before marinating.

Heartier: Serve it on warm grains like quinoa or farro instead of rice.

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