The 2016 BNC offers ten tips for making the trendy fish preparation at home.
Chef Ravi Kapur of San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club has earned a cult following for his neo-Hawaiian cuisine. Here, the 2016 Best New Chef shares ten tips for making perfect poke, the hottest dish on menus right now.
1. Talk to your fishmonger.
“Sometimes the best and freshest fish is not what’s out on the counter, but if you’ve developed a good relationship with the folks at your market, you might get access to something better that they’re keeping in the back. Tell them you’re looking for fish for ceviche, in case they might not be familiar with poke; fish that works well for ceviche will work equally well for poke.”
2. Experiment with different fish.
“On the West Coast, we get great local halibut; you could also use sea bass, salmon, fluke, ocean trout, albacore or tombo tuna, Hamachi, sea bream or snapper. If you choose ahi (a.k.a. yellowfin), center loin costs more but will have less silver skin and connective tissue to cut through. The most important thing is that it’s fresh. Great poke is about letting the quality of the fish shine through, not masking subpar fish with other ingredients.”
3. Keep the fish cold.
“Don’t bring your groceries home and leave them on the counter and get to them in an hour. Keep your fish in the fridge, and don’t take it out until you’re ready to cut it. That has nothing to do with foodborne illness, by the way; fish is just easier to cut when it’s cold. Once you’ve cut it up, put it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to dress and serve it.”
4. Cube with care.
“A sharp knife is essential. Traditionally, poke is cut to around ½ inch or slightly bigger, which is perfect if you’re at home and you’re going to make a little salad for yourself. If you’re serving it as an hors d’oeuvre at a cocktail party, cut it a bit smaller— around ¼ inch – so you can make a little heap on a chip or cracker for an easier bite. In Hawaii, we don’t see chewiness as a bad thing, so we leave the sinew in, as well as the bloodline, but you can cut those out if you prefer.”
5. Season to taste.
“I think of ginger and chilies as seasonings that I scatter over the top of the fish before mixing with the soy sauce. I use the freshest ginger possible; it’s better to leave it out altogether than to use fibrous old ginger. Mince it finely rather than using a Microplane, which will extract too much moisture. If you’re using chiles, mince them finely as well, leaving out the seeds.”
6. Choose add-ins carefully.
“I keep my poke simple: minced scallions and ginger. Sometimes I might dice some avocado or mince jalapenos or red fresno chilies to add in, depending on the flavor I’m looking for. I don’t mix in watery vegetables like cucumber, jicama or radish, which dilute the flavor of the dish and leach out extra moisture (although I sometimes use those things to garnish the top). In Hawaii, you see a lot of sliced sweet Maui onion, but I use scallions because you can buy them in small amounts. (That way you don’t use half an onion and let the rest sit around for who knows how long.) I use both the white and the green part of the scallion. The white has a stronger flavor, so I cut it as thin as possible, and the green part slightly thicker.”
7. Taste your soy sauce.
“The standard for me is a premium soy sauce or San-J tamari, which is gluten-free and a bit more assertive in flavor. I treat it lightly. Make sure you taste it before you pour it in so you can season to your personal preference.”
8. Don’t dress your fish until right before you serve it.
“You don’t want to pour the soy sauce into the bowl and then walk away, or you’re going end up curing a very small part of the fish that’s in contact with it.”
9. Mix it like a salad, not a meatloaf.
“Treat it gently. I don’t make a dressing first and then pour it over the fish: I scatter the ginger and chilies on top, then drizzle the soy or tamari over the fish and lightly toss it all together, using open fingers to rotate the fish on itself. I like to use my hands so I can feel it as I go, to be more connected with the dish and its tactile nature. (You could also use a rubber spatula, if you prefer). I go slowly, looking at the bowl, drizzling, then tossing, then tasting. You want to disperse the soy sauce as quickly and as comfortably as you can, and taste as you go.”