Poke has always been a local phenomenon — and now it’s gone national. Whatever you have to say about mainland-style poke with cauliflower, nuts, sunflower seeds, zucchini noodles, corn (I’ll stop here), that’s not what this post is about. This post is about how a local fish expert makes spicy ahi poke.
My boyfriend works at Nico’s Pier 38, where his job has him buying fresh fish right next door at Honolulu’s daily auction. His tips for making your own version of spicy ahi poke are simple, but they make a big difference. And there are zero zucchini noodles.
Here’s how a real pro does it.
- 1. Use fresh fish
If you can, get the fish that day and make the poke about an hour before you plan to serve it.
With whole fish, look for a vibrant color — the more vibrant, the fresher the fish. Also check the bloodline — if it’s brown, the fish isn’t fresh. The redder the bloodline, the better. When you cut the fish, don’t cut too close to the bloodline.
Take a whiff. The fish should have a fresh ocean smell. If it smells fishy, it’s not fresh!
If you’re working with a piece of fish and not a whole one, check the texture. A watery look and feel mean it’s probably been frozen.
Tip: Fatty tuna makes great-tasting poke. Look for tuna with a white, snowy tone — that’s all the fat. If you go with a leaner tuna, the poke will look more vibrant, but it also won’t be as flavorful.
- 2. Slice into cubes
Use a long, sharp knife and cut in one direction using long strokes to end up with smooth, clean cubes. Sawing the fish as you cut will make it jagged and mushy.
- 3. Make your sauce
Nailing the sauce takes some trial and error. Everyone’s taste is different, so be creative and experiment.
Typical ingredients for spicy ahi poke include mayo, Sriracha and chili oil. How much you add of each depends on your taste. For example, if you want initial heat and intense fire, add more Sriracha. If you want a lingering heat and stronger chili flavor, use more chili oil. Some people like to go heavier on the mayo for the creaminess, others like a more spare style.
Add a good pinch or more of salt, depending on your poke volume, to draw out flavors. A drizzle of sesame oil will bring in a nutty flavor. Use a good sesame oil for this.
- 4. Add your mix-ins
What do you like in your poke? My typical spicy ahi poke includes green and white onions, lots of avocado and tobiko for extra crunch. Add your favorites to the bowl.
Mix well so all the ahi cubes are sufficiently coated with sauce, but don’t stir or overmix — you’ll end up smashing the fish and other fragile ingredients like avocado. Gently lift and fold.
- 5. Chill and enjoy
Put the poke in the fridge and let it chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. One hour in the fridge is ideal — the ahi has time to soak up the flavors of sauce and mix-ins.
If the tuna is fresh, your poke should last for up to two days. Color usually fades after 24 hours, but the flavor is still great.
Break out the chopsticks and enjoy!