The first time I had a poke bowl, I was not in Hawaii. I was sitting in a restaurant in New York City two days after one of the largest blizzards in the city's history. Like I said, not Hawaii.
This explains why I know poke the way I (and many mainlanders) do: As a heaping serving of fresh, raw fish served over a bed of rice, doused in sauce, and covered in garnishes. It isn’t traditional—its predecessor is served in Hawaii sans rice, with sea salt and maybe some limu, a type of algae—but iterations of the poke bowl are popping up all over the mainland.
More: We spotted the poke trend.
These days, you can find poke served over zucchini noodles, doused in ponzu or soy sauce, covered with chile flakes, or served with avocado slices. Think of it as a fish-forward grain bowl.
The easiest way to turn poke into a meal is to serve it over a grain or vegetable. You’ll want about 2 cups of whatever you choose, per serving. If you’re looking for something more filling, opt for white or brown rice, soba noodles, or ancient grains like quinoa and farro. You can also use zucchini noodles (the customer favorite at Wisefish Poké, a poke restaurant in Chelsea) or mixed greens. Place your chosen base into a medium-sized bowl.
If you’re looking for a shareable snack, rather than a meal, serve the poke with tortilla chips, guacamole-style. (This is what we like to call Party Poke.)
If you're opting for raw fish, make sure it's high-quality, from a fishmonger you trust. Michael Chernow, co-founder of New York City’s The Meatball Shop and their recent seafood restaurant Seamore’s which serves a poke appetizer, told me over the phone that there are several freshness indicators to keep an eye out, especially when purchasing fish to eat raw. “If you’re buying the fish whole, make sure the eyeballs are crisp and clear, that the flesh is resilient—when you push your finger into it, you want it to bounce back right away—and that the gills are bright red,” he explained.
Once you’ve found the freshest fish, eat it as soon as possible. As Michael puts it, “Once fish has been caught, it often spends five to seven days on ice on the fishing boat before it’s brought to harbor, then to a fish market, then to a monger or market. By the time you buy fish, it’s been out of water for ten to fourteen days.” He suggests eating raw fish the day you purchase it, if possible, and no longer than a day later, at most. Wisefish serves Ahi tuna, salmon, and Albacore tuna sourced from Wild Fish Direct, which offer overnight shipping, but any local fish seller you trust is also a great place to start!).
Most poke is made with tuna, which Roudy Leath, Seamore’s executive chef, explained is the because its traditional, holds its shape better, and is easy to bite through when raw. To make sure tuna is fresh, look for a deep red color, not dark purple, unless it’s Albacore tuna, which is slightly more pale.
If tuna isn’t your thing, go for fluke, flounder, salmon, or porgy. A good rule of thumb is to choose any fish you would make a ceviche with. Once you’ve found your fish, debone it and cut it into bite-sized pieces. You’ll want about four to five ounces per person. If you’re opting for mix-ins (we’ll get to this soon!), set the fish aside in a medium-sized bowl. If you’re eating it plain, add it on top of your base.
If raw fish isn’t your thing, cut an eight-ounce, firm slab of tofu or a large cucumber into bite-sized cubes. Set it to marinate for a few minutes in sesame oil and soy sauce or ponzu sauce before adding it to your base.
Chung Chow executive chef and co-owner of Noreetuh, a Hawaiian-inspired New York restaurant, suggests trying cured meats as poke. In Hawaii, this is called Pipikaula Poke. “This can include brisket, short ribs, or a piece of meat that’s been marinated and seasoned like poke,” he explained.
If you want more flavor and texture in your protein (or vegetable!), add some mix-ins into it. To do so, toss as much or as little of the following options to your fish, to taste.:
Once you’re all set, pile your creation on top of your base.
If you’re looking for some extra crunch or flavor, add an array of toppings on top of your assembled poke bowl. Any of the following work well:
The final touch of a perfectly assembled poke bowl is the sauce! Anything with ginger, soy sauce, or fish sauce, or mirin is a great option. Even a squeeze of lime can go a long way. If you're looking for something spicy, add on some Sriracha, and if you're looking for creamy, add a dollop of wasabi aioli. Drew Crane, co-founder of Wisefish, explained to me that as important as the sauce you choose is the amount you use. He said, "For us, [the ideal amount] is just enough to lightly coat the fish." You want to use enough that you can taste it, but not so much that it overwhelms the subtle flavor of the fish.
Eat as soon as possible, dream of catching mad Hawaiian waves, and enjoy!
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