ROB BENES IS A CHICAGO-BASED HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY WRITER. CONTACT HIM AT ROBBENES@COMCAST.NET.
cucumber, scallion, jalapeño pepper, Maui onion and sesame
vinaigrette; The Volcano, seaweed, edamame, jalapeño pepper,
ginger, orange and black tobiko and Volcano sauce (chili/ponzu
mayonnaise); and The Crunch, jalapeño pepper, cucumber,
scallion, edamame, tobiko, spicy crunch, spicy aioli and sweet-and-savory samurai sauce.
Poke is attracting a range of age groups. “We’ve noticed
our demographic has changed from being the health-conscious
YogaFit-goers to a younger crowd, as well as enticing older
guests,” says Zach Friedlander, Aloha Poke’s co-founder/operating
partner. “We feel the uptick is due to a desire for unprocessed
foods and good value for the amount of food received.”
While raw seafood is the primary ingredient, poke can go beyond
that. For example, grilled chicken and poached octopus appeal to
diners who want their protein cooked. Uncooked organic tofu is also
popular. “You need to have more options other than raw fish, because
you will exclude a certain segment of people from ever entering your
restaurant,” Arias says. “Those diners might change their mind on a
future visit, be adventurous and order a bowl with raw seafood.”
Eric Rivera, executive chef at The Bookstore Bar & Café,
Seattle, decided to put poke on the menu because he wanted
to have items that tell stories related to the nationalities of the
restaurant’s cooks. Two of his chefs are from Hawaii, so poke
made sense. “I want my cooks to play an active role in menu
development,” he says. “We’ll think about how the recipes can
be presented with a modern approach, particularly for the dinner
menu, but still be recognizable by guests.”
Tombo tuna poke is not served in a bowl piled high with
ingredients, but it delivers traditional poke flavor. Rivera’s
recipe is a refined approach that features cured tombo tuna, rice
crackers, seaweed crackers, chili oil, green chili sauce, Fresno
chili tips, kewpie and salt water cure, all composed on a plate.
To add a bit of texture and bite to the tuna, it’s diced, cured
with a 7% salt water solution for 20 minutes, rinsed off, air-dried
in the cooler for two hours and portion-packed in sealed containers
for service. “I don’t want the tuna to sit too long in the marinade,
because it would turn into a ceviche and be too firm,” Rivera says.
“But I feel that curing the tuna prior to assembling the recipe adds
a textural element, plus, the cure serves as the sauce.”
For lunch, Rivera menus a traditional version, a poke bowl that
features cured tuna, jasmine rice, forbidden rice, wild rice, seasonal
pickled vegetables, green onion and sesame/ginger sauce. “The
challenging aspects of making poke is ensuring the highest-quality
seafood is available to use, breaking the seafood down, cutting
ingredients into the same size and having consistency,” he says.
“Preparing poke is a bigger conversation than preparing
a salad or steak entree, because we’re working with many
ingredients that need to complement each other, not only in taste,
but in presentation, too.”
William Middleton, executive chef at Oceans 234, Deerfield
Beach, Florida, compares poke in Hawaii to hamburgers on the
mainland. “It can be found everywhere,” he says. “Poke’s even
available at gas stations.”
Oceans 234 features Atlantic bluefin tuna steak as an entree.
Each steak yields about 3 ounces of trim that’s used to make a
poke bowl for the lunch menu.
“I like the simplicity of poke, so we don’t get fancy,”
Middleton says. The recipe features tuna, diced cucumber, diced
mango, chopped macadamia nuts and ponzu sauce served with
deep-fried plantain chips in a half coconut shell.
“People gravitate toward poke because it’s viewed as being
a healthy item that does not include processed items. Our recipe
doesn’t even include a starch,” Middleton says. “It’s also more
inviting compared to sushi or sashimi, because there are many
other components served with the seafood.”
Ricardo Jarquin, chef de cuisine at Travelle Kitchen + Bar,
Chicago, uses white soy sauce in his ahi poke bowl to retain the
tuna’s deep-red color. A colored sauce, he says, would turn the
tuna a different color and make it look unappetizing. “Also, the
basis of a good poke is the quality of the fish, so you don’t want
to overshadow the fish with a lot of ingredients or heavy sauces.
You just want to enhance the natural flavor of the seafood.”
His basic poke recipe, made tableside, is ahi tuna, white soy
sauce, sambal, sesame oil, Hawaiian red alaea salt, scallions and
cipollini onions. It is served with pork rind for a crunchy textural
element and as a means of scooping up the poke. Jarquin likes
white soy for its strong umami flavor.