Power to the Poke!

Poke is about more than just ‘ahi.

Sure, the default iteration of the popular Hawai‘i food favorite uses fresh tuna as its main ingredient as opposed to, more, shall we say, exotic poke like raw crab, mussel, clam and kimchee. But for folks who truly love poke, the idea that you can “poke anything” is the very reason for its infinite appeal. (The Hawaiian word poke—pronounced “poh-keh”—refers not to the dish itself, but “the act of slicing, or cutting crosswise into pieces,” a preparation method, which most poke recipes require.) If your poke experience thus far is limited to ‘ahi, we’re here to help. We asked five Hawai‘i chefs to push the poke boundary by sharing their favorite anything-but-‘ahi poke recipes. Then we sat down to chat about the history behind each concoction and our chefs’ poke bonafides. Prepare to do some shopping … and poke eating.

Kimberly Oi, sous chef, Lunchbox by Pili Group, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak

Kimberly Oi, sous chef, Lunchbox by Pili Group, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak

Kimberly Oi, sous chef, Lunchbox by Pili Group, O‘ahu

During college, while working her first culinary job as a fishmonger in Oakland, Calif., O‘ahu-raised Oi decided to whip up some poke just because she craved it. “I was a little homesick and I was dealing with ‘ahi all the time,” says Oi. “So I thought, why not just make some and see how it sells?” Soon enough, Oaklanders were calling in to reserve her Saturday poke at $25 a pound. Says Oi, “They would eat it at the counter as soon as I gave it to them.” The recipe she shares here was the end result of a kitchen team challenge to come up with a new poke for Lunchbox’s weekly Friday poke bowl using end-of-the-week ingredients in the refrigerator. “We nailed it fast! It had all of the flavors of a Mediterranean salad. Just with fish.”

Mediterranean Poke Recipe
by Kimberly Oi

  • 1 lb. fresh shutome (broadbill swordfish), boneless, skinless
  • 1 Tbsp capers
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • Mediterranean Poke Sauce (recipe follows)
  • reserved herb mix from Mediterranean Poke Sauce
  • lemon
Clean and cube shutome and set aside in a medium bowl.Add, to taste, two tablespoons at a time of Mediterranean Poke Sauce to shutome. Toss until shutome is coated thoroughly. Add more salt if needed. Add remaining ingredients through cucumber to fish mixture. Toss lightly.Serve over choice of grain or salad, or in a pita. Top with fresh herb mix and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Mediterranean Poke Sauce

  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • ½ cup basil
  • ½ cup parsley
  • ½ cup mint
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¼ tsp chili flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • zest from one lemon
  • sea salt, to taste
Reserve about a tablespoon each of basil, parsley, mint and cilantro. Blend together all remaining ingredients in a food processor. Mixture should be well-blended, but not liquefied. Large, coarse pieces are OK. Finely chop reserved herbs and mix together. Use to garnish finished dish.

Isaac Bancaco, executive chef, Ka‘ana Kitchen at Andaz Maui at Wailea, Maui

Bancaco’s first memory of poke is eating fresh-caught kala (unicorn fish) with his Maui fisherman grandfather as a kid. “Nobody eats kala anymore. It’s too fishy and tastes like limu (reef seaweed) whether you want that or not. But when you go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, you don’t really get a choice of what you want to eat. It’s on the table. You’re going to try it.” Introduced young to poke made with reef fishes, whose diet is largely limu, he took quickly to the pungent flavor. “I had the bottom of the barrel first,” he says proudly. “‘Ahi would come later.” Bancaco’s “Hamajang” onaga (long-tail red snapper) poke recipe is inspired by the Tahitian ceviche dish poisson cru and his favorite Maui-made hot sauce. “A couple of dashes go a long way,” he warns, smiling.

“Hamajang” Onaga And Coconut Poke Recipe
by Isaac Bancaco

  • 2 lbs. onaga (red snapper), boneless, skinless
  • 1 Maui onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Hawaiian salt, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 oz. Adoboloco brand Hamajang hot sauce
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 10 mint leaves, torn
  • 10 Thai basil leaves, torn
  • 3 limes, juice only


Dice onaga into bite-size cubes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.Roast whole Maui onion, husk on, in the oven for 25 minutes at 350° F. When done, remove from oven, cool to room temperature, then remove outer skin and root end. Purée the onion in a blender.In a small saucepan, cover garlic cloves with cold water, bring to a boil, then remove and discard water. Repeat this process three times. Blend garlic with a splash of water until texture resembles wet sand.

Remove onaga from the refrigerator and season with Hawaiian salt. Add the onion purée, garlic purée and all other ingredients except for lime juice. Let mixture sit for five minutes to marinate, then add lime juice. Adding the lime juice last seals in the flavor of the other ingredients before the juice closes the pores of the fish.

Serve with crispy taro chips. Goes best with beer. Serves four locals or 10 Wailea housewives.

Isaac Bancaco, executive chef, Ka‘ana Kitchen at Andaz Maui at Wailea, Maui. Photos: Sue Hudelson // Andrew Le, owner-chef, The Pig & The Lady, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak

Isaac Bancaco, executive chef, Ka‘ana Kitchen at Andaz Maui at Wailea, Maui. Photos: Sue Hudelson // Andrew Le, owner-chef, The Pig & The Lady, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak

Andrew Le, owner-chef, The Pig & The Lady, O‘ahu

Le was eight years old the first time he tried poke, as his uncles consumed exotic Vietnamese fare and watched football on TV. “They were eating it along with all this gnarly stuff—coagulated blood cubes, pig intestines,” says Le. “I didn’t like it. I was a kid.” That changed at age 16 when Le tasted poke again in a basic recipe of fresh fish, shoyu and ‘inamona (mashed kukui nut and salt) served over sushi rice. “It was simple. It was super good. It was good with beer. Suddenly I got it.” The wonderfully aromatic poke he shares here is a take on Vietnamese-style ceviche. “The lemongrass sauce gives it a little heat, nice spice and brightness. There’s a nice nuttiness from the toasted rice powder.” Le nailed the ingredients and flavors the first time he made it. “I hit it right away on this one.”

Kajiki Lemongrass-Kaffir Lime Poke Recipe
by Andrew Le

  • 1 lb. fresh, high-grade kajiki (Pacific blue marlin), boneless, skinless, medium diced
  • 1 grapefruit, skinned, medium diced
  • 1 baby fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 2 medium shallots, sliced very thin
  • 2 hefty pinches sliced green onion
  • 2 hefty pinches toasted puffed rice (bubu arare is a good substitute)
  • 2 hefty pinches ngo om (rice paddy herb, pronounced “gnawohm,” found at Vietnamese grocery stores)
  • Red Boat brand fish sauce, single squirt or to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • Lemongrass-Kaffir Lime Sauce (recipe follows)
Mix all ingredients together well and serve.

Lemongrass-Kaffir Lime Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 stalks lemongrass, smashed and sliced thin on bias
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • ½ cup cilantro root, sliced thin
  • 2 Thai chilies, seeded and sliced thin
  • ⅓ cup kaffir lime, sliced thin
  • ¼ cup jasmine rice powder (raw jasmine rice blended into fine powder)
  • sugar, to taste
  • lime juice, to taste
  • fish sauce, to taste
  • oil
  • water
Toast coriander seeds in lightly oiled pan. When coriander is toasted, add garlic and sweat until aromatic. Add lemongrass and sweat more. (Add more oil if necessary to prevent sticking.) Add remaining ingredients through kaffir lime with a pinch of salt and continue to sweat. Do not brown—ingredients should remain colorless.Add water to barely cover ingredients. Simmer until everything is soft. Cool mixture and transfer to blender. Blend on high until smooth. Add jasmine rice powder and blend on high for five minutes to allow the sauce to fully thicken. Season sauce with lime juice, sugar and fish sauce, to taste. Strain sauce through a chinois or very fine mesh sieve.

Robin Abad, sous chef, Halekulani, O‘ahu

The sweet, tiny freshwater river-caught shrimp served still alive and leaping in the popular Filipino dish jumping salad was Abad’s poke inspiration here. “The shrimp was dumped on the table. We’d have a bowl of spicy vinegar, calamansi and salt. We would catch the shrimp, dip it in the seasonings, scoop it with rice and eat,” says Abad. His recipe uses cooked, non-jumping shrimp, but stays true to the dish’s flavor, mixing in other jumping salad ingredients. “The amazing thing for me about poke is the simplicity of the dish’s roots and how complex it can get while always reverting back to that simplicity,” says Abad. His favorite poke ingredient? “I like good salt. When I’m eating poke and I get these crunches of salt, I just want to dive right into the ocean. If you have great salt, everything will fall into place.”

Filipino “Jumping Salad” Shrimp Poke Recipe
by Robin Abad

  • 8 oz. fresh amaebi (sweet shrimp), blanched, peeled, cubed
  • 1 oz. Pickled Ogo (recipe follows)
  • ¼ oz. fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 oz. Filipino Chili Vinegar (recipe follows)
  • 2 oz. fresh calamansi (Filipino lime) juice
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • chicharrón (pork skins), for garnish
Tear ogo by hand into bite-size pieces. Mix all ingredients together well and serve with chicharróns for dipping or broken up as garnish.EATING TIP: Serve with hot rice and nori (dried seaweed) sheets. Spoon hot rice onto a small sheet of nori seasweed. Place one or two pieces of shrimp poke and crumbled chicharrón on rice. Close nori to surround poke and rice, like a sushi handroll. Eat.

Filipino Chili Vinegar

Yield: 16 oz

  • 1 oz. Hawaiian chili pepper
  • 12 oz. white vinegar
  • 4 oz. water
  • ½ oz. garlic, crushed
  • 1 oz. ong choy (water spinach) stems
  • kosher salt, to taste
Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to a simmer and check for seasoning. Store in refrigerator and use as needed.

Pickled Ogo

Yield: 16 oz

  • 4 oz. Kombu Pickle Liquid (recipe follows)
  • 8 oz. ogo, fine
  • 2 oz. ginger, grated
  • 4 oz. onions, sliced
  • 1/8 oz. Hawaiian chili pepper
  • kosher salt, to taste
Place all ingredients in a container, mix and check for seasoning. Store in refrigerator and use as needed.

Kombu Pickle Liquid

Yield: 16 oz

  • 2-inch x 2-inch piece kombu (seaweed)
  • 10 oz. rice vinegar
  • 6 oz. sugar
  • kosher salt, to taste
Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer. Let cool, store in refrigerator and use as needed.
Robin Abad, sous chef, Halekulani, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak // Kanoa Miura, owner-chef, Aloha Mondays, Hawai‘i Island. Photos: Aaron Yoshino

Robin Abad, sous chef, Halekulani, O‘ahu. Photos: Steve Czerniak // Kanoa Miura, owner-chef, Aloha Mondays, Hawai‘i Island. Photos: Aaron Yoshino


Kanoa Miura, owner-chef, Aloha Mondays, Hawai‘i Island

Though poke was always around him while growing up on O‘ahu, Miura didn’t find his groove for it until launching his Hilo catering business, Aloha Mondays, and began associating it with work days off. “If there’s good fish at the market at a good price, I’ll just make my own,” says Miura, of poke. “On Saturday, I’ll buy a nice slab, put everything together on Sunday morning, go down to Honoli‘i Beach Park and wait for everybody. I kind of see poke as an end-of-the-week reward.” Random refrigerator ingredients and fresh Hawai‘i Island-grown enoki mushrooms found at the Hilo Farmers Market inspired Miura’s poke recipe here. “Poke is a real big part of our life now,” he says, of his family—wife, Geana, and two young daughters. “When the girls see me come home with all the stuff for poke, they’re excited!”

Truffle-Yaki Mushroom Poke Recipe
by Kanoa Miura

  • 1½ lbs. enoki mushrooms (found in Asian markets)
  • 2 oz. sheet of kombu (found in Asian markets)
  • 2 oz. piece fresh ginger, smashed
  • ½ oz. Maui onion, julienned thin
  • ¼ to ½ orange or red bell pepper, julienned thin
  • 3 to 4 grape tomato skins, cleaned and julienned
  • black sesame seeds
  • green onion, julienned
  • Truffle-Yaki Sauce (see recipe below)
  • 4 cups water
  • salt
Place ginger and kombu in 4 cups of salted water and bring to boil, then simmer for 20 minutes before removing ginger and kombu.After removing ginger and kombu, bring mixture to boil again.

Break enoki mushrooms into clusters. When mixture is boiling, place enoki mushrooms in, blanch for 15 to 20 seconds, remove from water and strain.

Make Truffle-yaki Sauce. Add enoki mushrooms, onions, bell pepper and tomato skins to Truffle-yaki Sauce and mix together. Garnish with black sesame seeds and green onion and serve.

Truffle-Yaki Sauce

  • 1 to 2 tsp. white truffle oil
  • 1 oz. teriyaki sauce
  • ½ oz. mirin (Japanese rice wine for cooking; found in Asian markets)
  • salt
  • pepper
Combine white truffle oil, teriyaki sauce and mirin in bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Published: HAWAI‘I Magazine, November/December 2014

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