Traditional Tuna Poke of Hawaii
October 12 2017 09:24 PM
SIMPLE: The technique for making poke is very simple and basic. Photo by the author
SIMPLE: The technique for making poke is very simple and basic. Photo by the author

One of the many benefits of being a chef is to meet a lot of people. Having worked around the globe with a diversified staff is always an opportunity to interact with them and get to know their culture and cuisine. One such interaction, I had, was with Hawaiians about their cuisine.
Hawaii’s diverse, spectacular natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of beautiful clean beaches, oceanic surroundings and active volcanoes makes it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, farmers, biologists and volcanologists. Among the first settlers of the island were the Polynesian voyagers who brought around 30 plants when they arrived in 300- 500 AD. The most important of them was the taro of which a paste called poi was made. Later settlers brought breadfruit and baking banana, as well as coconut, sugarcane, sweet potato and yams. They also brought poultry and other animals since there were no animals on this remote island. Fish was always abundant and a local favourite among the settlers. 
It is very interesting on how these newer islands were explored and people started settling down and developed these places and now these are one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world map. Meat was preparedly spitting it on sticks and roasting it over fire or cooking it in underground ovens called “Imu”. To build an Imu they dug a pit in the ground and lined it with lava rocks. Then a fire was built and when the rocks were hot, the foods like sweet potato, taro, vegetables, meats and fish were wrapped in banana and ginger leaves were placed into the pit. The food was then covered with wet leaves and layer of earth. The cooking was done by the men only, sea salt was the most common seasoning initially. Any important occasion, a special fest called “aha’aina” was prepared. Now a days, they call it lu’au which comes from the name of the food that was always served at an ‘aha’aina” which was baked young taro tops with coconut milk and chicken or octopus. 
When I think of Hawaii, the first thing to come to my mind is the pineapple cultivation in the region. The first pineapple was cultivated in Honolulu by Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish botanist , in 1813. Few years later he also planted the first Hawaiian vineyard and are now known as mission grape variety. Later he also planted the first coffee crop, but his plantations failed. But by the end of the century, pineapple and sugarcane were Hawaii’s most important crops. Dole planted pineapples on Oahu in 1901 and in 1922 the entire island of Lanai was purchased to grow pineapples. With the increase in the plantations the need for labour also grew and they were hired from China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Puerto rico and Portugal. These immigrants brought their own food culture, eating habits, ingredients and raw materials with them. 
Today many local restaurants and roadside food stands serve the ubiquitous plate lunch also called “loco moco”, featuring the Asian staple, two scoops of rice, American macaroni salad, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy. In 1992 a significant culinary movement was started by 12 Hawaii chefs and they promoted the use of locally grown foods instead of imported food items and thy formed an organisation to create the Hawaii regional cuisine. Today the cuisine of Hawaii remains a fusion of foods brought to the islands from around the world. 
Poke is one of the favourite dishes from the region and the technique for making poke is so basic that even the most inexperienced cooks can get close to the perfect dish served in traditional Hawaii restaurant. But the catch is that you have to use only the freshest possible tuna.

Tuna Poke

Yellow fin tuna
Soy sauce – 60 ml
Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
Ginger root, grated 1 tsp
Spring onion 1/3 cup
Macademia nut, crushed 10-12 nos. 
Seaweed  1 sheet
Red pepper flakes 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Crushed pepper to taste
Sesame seeds  1 tsp
Avocado 1 no
Lemon juice/ Lemon juice
Rice vinegar
Deep fried crispy fish skin 

In a bowl whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, sliced onion, macadamia nuts, seaweed, pepper flakes and salt together in a bowl. 
Cut tuna into small cubes and place it in a bowl
Drizzle the marinade and toss and stir to marinate evenly
Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, mix again to coat evenly
Serve cold topped with sesame seeds, sliced green onions, sprinkle with lemon or lime or seasoned rice vinegar, avocado on the side
Garnish with deep fried fish skin on the side
Do not add the vinegar or citrus juice to the marinade. You won’t get the right texture.  You can also serve it on top of the rice with seasonal vegetables. You can also serve it on top of noodles or buckwheat noodles, or on salad or with nachos as an appetiser.

* Chef Tarun Kapoor,  Culinary Mastermind,  USA. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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