What I Learned from Making Hawai’ian Poke, (Recipe Included)


The first sushi I ever tried in my life was poke in Hawai’i.  Pronounced poke’e (ends like coffee) this fish dish is delicious and yummy sushi that everyone should try at some point in their lives.  The strong flavors of toasted sesame seeds fill the mouth while garlic and onion add a freshness that really opens the palate.  I really will never be able to say enough about this wonderful dish that can be great as a snack.  As always, I will write about what making poke taught me about my life, and follow it up with the recipe I use.  If you want to skip over my long-winded ramblings feel free to skip below to the recipe.  Until then the things I have learned from making poke are:

  1. Things are easier then I imagine.
  2. I lack a lot of knowledge about the world.
  3. Living in the time of the internet is great for DIY.
  4. Do not be too urgent.
  5. Do not wait too long.

The first thing I learned was that things are often easier then I imagine them to be.  I often look at a finished project and imagine all the complex things that must have went into making such a work of art.  Food perfection often hides complex choices and actions to really bring out the best dish that can be.  I find such things to be intimidating, and poke intimidated me.  The idea of working with raw fish intimidated me.  Attempting to capture a dish I love so much intimidated me.  So, I was shocked and surprised when I discovered the basic actions I needed to take were actually very simple.  The key was finding the correct ingredients of a high enough quality.  But once I found those good ingredients the rest was really very simple.

I have found this in my life.  When faced with a task I have never done before I often build it up in my mind.  I look at pipes that need to be fixed, or the creation of a blog, and I build up all these imaginary steps that I might mess up.  I roll it over and over in my mind letting the task get bigger and bigger.  The danger, of course, is that rather than starting on a project one reaches a point of overload and just does nothing.  Faced with my fear of what making poke entailed and the difficulty in finding a recipe I could have just given up.  When tasks seem too big it is easy to just avoid them.  But it is good to remember things are often much easier then we realize.  If we do some reading and research and ask people who know, we will often find the fear retreating.  And once we jump in and start trying to do things, it becomes second nature.  Making poke taught me that I can do things that I am afraid are too difficult for me.  I needed to stop making things bigger in my mind, and realize that things are often easier then I imagined.

The second thing I learned was that I lack a lot of knowledge about the world.  I like to think of myself as knowledgeable and experienced but looking at poke recipes it became apparent that there are things in this world I just do not know anything about.  I had to learn the differences in what the sections of the grocery store all call sesame oil.  And trust me to make good poke you will want to know the difference.  I still have little idea what Ogo or Kukui is, but I have a better idea then I did before.  Luckily, they were not necessary ingredients, but when I eventually want to try them I will need to do more research.

The important part is that the world is broad and my knowledge is narrow.  I need to be able to accept my own ignorance before I can move forward with learning.  I cannot be the expert on everything, especially if I eventually want to be the expert on something.  If I never close my mouth and open my ears I will never learn anything.  I must clear out my ideas and allow new ones to sink in.

The third thing I learned was that living in the time of the internet is great for DIY everything.  I live in North Idaho, as far from Honolulu as possible, and yet I can easily go online and dig through recipes that make my attempt possible.  This is as true for poke as it is for plumbing.  In the past, I would have had limited resources to try and find anything about how to do certain DIY projects.  But I live in the great time of the internet; the source of all knowledge, if you know the search terms.  I love that I can spend days reading about how to do anything I want to try.  Problems have come up in life and if I accepted they might be easier then I imagined and realized I did not know as much as I hoped; well than I could look online and find the steps required to get them solved.

The last two things I learned are connected because like all things in life they require balance.  Poke is perfect when you eat it at the right time.  It can be eaten as soon as it is made, but letting it marinate in the fridge makes it so much better.  All the flavors mix and seep into each other creating a beautiful work of art.  But on the other side of the isle, the fish is raw and letting set too long and it all goes fishy.  I usually allow for several days before I start to worry, luckily poke does not often last that long.

In my life, I have found that a sense of urgency can often be a negative to getting the most out of something.  Now do not get me wrong, often a sense of urgency will help push you to success, but patience is a virtue for a reason.  Putting in the work, and then allowing it to marinate will often garner better results than not waiting for everything to coalesce.  When working on the casino floor and changing out machines or trying new ideas it took time for results to come in.  Forcing myself to wait for a good 30 days before deciding it was the right or wrong choice was not always easy, but it allowed for better measurement.  Giving the new ideas time to marinate on the floor meant that I was not making knee jerk choices and then jumping into another change before really understanding what was going on.  There are times in life where you just need to step back and allow the work you have done to grow.

On the flip side of this coin, letting something set too long may mean it goes bad.  There are issues in our life that we just need to face and face now.  In the same example of the casino floor once an idea was seen to not be working one need to act.  Leaving what needs done undone leaves money on the table and eventually causes a stink.  A bad situation is not going to magically go away, and once it is apparent that it isn’t, action needs to be taken.

The point of these two lessons is that one has to know when to live with urgency, and when to let things marinate.  The world is a place of balance, and knowing how and when to step on either side of the line is important.  Not trying to push when the world needs to rest is as important as knowing when to pull because it needs to change.

Learning to make poke was a great gift to myself, that I am glad I gave.  It has taught me many good life lessons and allows me the delicious yumminess that comes with the final product.  I recommend that you pick a dish you love and are scared to make and you make it.  The sense of accomplishment and joy, even if it’s not perfect, is amazing.  While you consider what that dish might be here is my recipe for poke.


Poke Recipe


Remember to get fresh fish.  This is important, especially where you might live away from the ocean.  I have a nice fishermen’s market in my city that supplies some nice fresh fish.

The sesame oil is where the key to your flavor will come from.  The version of oil is usually in the Asian section in most stores around the U.S.  I have found it labeled as Toasted, Oriental, or Asian.  It is a darker brown than the standard sesame oil you will find in the oil section.  The main mistake easy to make is there is a lighter sesame oil that can be found in the oil section, and this is not the correct one.  I have no idea what they do differently, but I assume it has to do with toasting.  The flavor of the toasted oil is very pungent, and if you try both oils on the tongue you will quickly learn the difference.

I have seen recipes that had several extras.  I have tried adding sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, crushed ginger, and/or salt.  There is usually enough sodium in the soy sauce for me, so I avoid adding more salt.  I often will sprinkle sesame seeds on the finished dish, and have added cilantro on several occasions.  You should feel free to try a host of other flavors and herbs you might like.

I left in two ingredients below that I do not use myself, mainly because I see them in a lot of versions of poke recipes.  I marked them with a star.



1-2 tablespoons Sesame Oil (Look for the “Asian” and or “toasted” version.  It will be a dark or brown color.  This ingredient is the vital ingredient, and honestly, I use a bit more then what is called for.)

2 lbs Ahi Tuna (Fresh raw tuna of sushi quality.  You can also use Aku, but your poke will be darker.)

½-1 cup Shoyu Light Version (soy sauce, I like the light version, but you will find which one you prefer.)

1 Bulb Garlic (I love garlic so I usually use two bulbs.)

1 Onion (White onion is the most common.)

1 Bunch Green Onion

*Ogo or Limu Kohu (I do not use this, mainly because I do not know what it is beyond it being some kind of seaweed.  Again, I do not ever use it.)

*Kukui Nut (Another ingredient I do not use.  I do not have access to it, and I have never noticed a lack because I left it out.  I have heard that crushed macadamia nut can be substituted.)



Dice the tuna into bite-size pieces and put into a large bowl.  The sizes should be small enough to eat with chopsticks but still large enough to be a nice bite.  Chop the garlic, green onion, and onion into small pieces (a food processor might work, but I use an Ulu).  I leave about 1/3 or ¼ of these ingredients to cut into larger pieces.  I like large pieces that add a nice flavor here and there, also they add to the overall look of the finished product.  Dump all the ingredients including the oil and sauce into the bowl and stir.  Stir it up, and stir it up.

Cover it tightly and put in the fridge.  I usually put it in my glass Tupperware.  The poke should set for a few hours and then enjoy.  I often eat them with Siracha on the side for dipping.  It will be good for several days, just make sure the fish stays good, and the poke will be good.  The onion, garlic, and sesame will cover the smell of it going bad, so I usually watch for signs that it is getting slimy first.  But as stated, poke is usually so good you finish it well before you have to worry.


Remember if you liked this recipe to check out my fry bread and kimchi recipes or any of the other recipes I have tried.  I hope you enjoy the recipe, and please leave comments on your results and suggestions.

Remember to cook something yummy for dinner.

4 thoughts on “What I Learned from Making Hawai’ian Poke, (Recipe Included)

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