Let them eat fish, Hawaii style
For the uninitiated, Martha Cheng’s book explains classic poke preparations and the basics needed to produce various iterations of the dish, with helpful, colorful pictures of the finished dishes.
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The spread of the poke craze across the mainland has been bittersweet, to say the least. That the beloved Hawaii dish gained national attention and legions of new fans put Hawaii in the spotlight, making a lot of us happy. Yet the mainland’s nontraditional presentations of the dish were insulting to many locals and traditionalists.
Honolulu-based food writer Martha Cheng has stepped boldly into the fray with “The Poke Cookbook” ($16.99, Clarkson Potter). The publishing house saw her quoted in an online article about poke and approached her about writing the book while the trend was still hot.
“I definitely did have my reservations about it, given all the controversy,” she said. But she decided to take on the project rather than have it fall into the hands of a mainland writer.
“I definitely wanted to make it very traditional,” she said, noting that the way Hawaii residents eat poke now often is a blend of cultural influences. Given that, “I think it does lend itself well to opening up to different cultures and flavors. My preferences are toward the traditional, but I don’t feel that it should be closed off to what other people like.”
She likens nontraditional poke recipes to the way the U.S. gets inventive with pizza.
While not a classically trained chef, she worked as a line cook at Alan Wong’s The Pineapple Room, and the first recipe she learned was poke, she said. Cheng created the recipes for the book mostly on her own but with some collaboration with chef Susanna Ok, the former Pineapple Room chef who taught her how to make the dish.
Some are essentially chopped salads, she said, but the ingredients are readily available across the mainland. Making recipes accessible was one goal of the book.
“As I was making some of them, I was thinking, ‘This isn’t what I think of as poke,’” she said.
For the uninitiated, Cheng’s book explains classic poke preparations and the basics needed to produce various iterations of the dish, with helpful, colorful pictures of the finished dishes. Some include winking nods at local culture, such as familiar green beer bottles shown in one of the pictures.
The 96-page book contains 45 recipes including eight for classic poke, 12 for modern poke and nine for vegetable poke. There’s a chapter dedicated to seven “Bases and Bowls,” and as a bonus of sorts, a “Local Style” chapter with eight recipes for isle faves such as boiled peanuts, furikake kettle corn, kalua pig, lomi salmon, ginger shandy and lychee fizz drinks. A book signing at the Surfjack Hotel is planned for early March.
The recipe below is Cheng’s version of hoedeopbap, a Korean raw fish and rice salad.
Korean Poke Bowl
- 4 cups cooked medium-grain white rice, warm
- 1 head red- or green-leaf lettuce, cut into 1-inch strips
- 1 cup radish sprouts (see note)
- 1 pound sushi-grade tuna, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 sheets nori, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup tobiko
>> Kochujang vinaigrette:
- 1/2 cup kochujang
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/4 cup water
Make the kochujang vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the kochujang, sesame oil, vinegar, honey, soy sauce and water until smooth. Set aside.
Divide rice among four big bowls. Pile on a handful of lettuce and spouts and then top with tuna. Garnish with crumbled nori, sesame seeds and tobiko.
Serve with sauce on the side so everyone can season their bowl to taste (begin with a few tablespoons). Drizzle over salad then toss everything together. Serves 4.
Note: If radish sprouts are unavailable, use julienned daikon or radish.
Nutritional information unavailable.