This Ahi Poke recipe is a quick, easy and delicious bowl of raw tuna flavoured with soy sauce, sesame oil, some aromatics and topped with crushed kukui nuts, also known as candlenuts.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
What is Poke?
Pronounced po-kay, it is a traditional Hawaiian recipe that traces its roots back to pre contact times and means “to cut crosswise into pieces”.
The poke that was eaten by early, native Hawaiians was made very simply with the cast offs of freshly caught raw reef fish that was salted, then flavoured with fresh seaweed (limu) and crushed kukui nuts (inamona in Hawaiian).
Over time, trade, as well as immigrants, introduced more ingredients to this traditional Hawaiian dish of raw fish. Soy sauce, sesame oil, spring onions (scallions) and ginger went into the mix. Along the way, tuna, with its glistening red flesh became the fish of choice, so much more pleasing to the eye than the grey reef fish.
From those humble beginnings, poke has grown to be an extremely popular snack or street food all across the United States. The name itself though, was only used to describe this dish sometime in the 1960s or 70s.
These days, you will find all kinds of poke recipes or poke bowls sold in restaurants, food trucks and also supermarkets. And it’s not just fish, but all forms of seafood, even beef, and of course, vegan poke bowls.
In fact, I was recently invited to sample the goods at a local vegan poke eatery, but because of these current times, I have yet to find my way there. One of these days!
Poke Bowl Sauce
You can eat poke on its own or have it over rice with or without poke bowl sauce.
This sauce can be any number of ingredients meant to flavour your poke bowl. At its most basic, it’ll be soy sauce and sesame oil, as we have here. But poke bowl sauces take all forms these days, with mayo, sriracha and chillies added to the mix.
You can buy ready made poke bowl sauce or just make it at home.
Difference between Poke, Ceviche, Kinilaw and Umai
Poke differs from the Latin ceviche, the Filipino kinilaw and the Malaysian umai in that it’s not cured or “cooked” in citrus juices. The fish remains very raw and is only flavoured by the various ingredients. All the other three contain some form of citric acid, usually lime juice.
So if you are going to be using raw fish to make Hawaiian poke, it needs to be of the best quality. What you need to buy is sashimi grade tuna, or any other fish (or octopus) that you may be using.
Ahi Poke Recipe
I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to post this traditional Hawaiian recipe, seeing how much I love raw fish! And since it’s the first one, I thought I’d start with a classic recipe, sometimes also called Ahi Shoyu Poke or Shoyu Ahi Poke. So let’s break that down, shall we?
- ahi = tuna
- shoyu = soy sauce (in Japanese)
- inamona = crushed, toasted kukui nuts (with or without added salt)
- limu = a type of red Hawaiian seaweed (which I can’t get, so I use what I can)
So, we’ll be using:
- spring onions (scallions)
- white onion
- sesame oil
- light soy sauce
- kukui nuts (called candlenuts here on LinsFood)
- optional seaweed – I love Nori, that toasted sushi seaweed (ps: I can’t get limu here in the UK)
We’re just going to mix it all up, and eat it!
Look out for more poke recipes in the future, I’m really looking forward to doing the octopus one! But I shall use cooked octopus, because I think that’s probably more accessible for many.
What is Inamona?
Inamona, in its most basic form, is toasted, crushed kukui nuts or candlenuts. Salt is frequently added to the mix, and sometimes also dried chilli flakes or powder. It is found, sold in packets, all over Hawaii and some parts of mainland USA.
Now if you’re not in Hawaii, chances are, you are not going to be able to find Inamona. So the next best thing? Get your hands on some kukui nuts. One of the pillars of LinsFood: want to cook exotic, try your best to source out those exotic ingredients, which means go online, more often than not.
Here in the UK, they are sold as candlenuts online, and you can even get them on Amazon. This is my affiliate link for candlenuts.
So what are Kukui Nuts or Candlenuts?
I first wrote about candlenuts on this site some 10 years ago. They are the fruit of the tree, Aleurites moluccanus, and an essential ingredient in some parts of South East Asia, mainly in Malay, Indonesian, Nyonya and Eurasian cooking.
I grew up calling it buah keras, which is what it’s called in Malay (buah = fruit, keras = hard), and we use it to enrich dishes.
Click here to read up more on kukui nuts on my other food blog, Singaporean and Malaysian Recipes. It’s a more comprehensive write up than the old one here.
Kukui nut substitute: macadamia nuts are the perfect substitute, 1:1. If you are using cashew nuts, halve the amount.
Traditionally, the kukui nuts are roasted in their shells until they turn a dark brown colour, before being split open to reveal the edible fruit/nut inside. These nuts are then chopped to a fairly fine state, using a pestle and mortar, or these days, a chopper.
Now, chances are, if you can find candlenuts, they are already shelled, as in the image above. So all we’re going to do is dry roast them in a frying pan for a good 10 minutes on low heat. Then, we will leave them to cool, before pulsing in a food chopper. That’s all.
And now, shall we get our aprons on?
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More Raw Fish Recipes on LinsFood
Ahi Poke Recipe (Hawaiian Raw Tuna with Inamona)
- Chopping board
- frying pan
- spoons and ladles as needed
- large bowl for mixing everything
- serving bowls or side plates
- 3 spring onions (scallions)
- 1 small onion or 2 shallots
- 500 g fresh, sashimi grade tuna
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 3 Tbsp light soy sauce not dark, not sweet, click to read more
- 3 Tbsp inamona see below
- 1 Tbsp toasted seaweed like Nori or seaweed of your choice (optional)
Homemade Inamona (Roasted, Ground Kukui Nuts)
- 6 kukui nuts or 4 macadamia nuts
- pinch salt
- Pound the candlenuts lightly with the back of your knife to halve. Don't worry about exact proportions.
- Tip all the candlenuts, including any bits, into a small frying pan and dry roast them on medium-low heat for 3 minutes.
- Then turn the heat down to its lowest setting and continue toasting for another 7 minutes or so, flipping the nuts regularly. We are going for a medium brown to semi dark brown colour. The smaller pieces will darken first. Take them out if you want, I just leave them all in the pan. The burnt bits just mimic the smokiness of kukui nuts toasted in their shells.
- When done, tip them out onto a plate and leave to cool while you get the other ingredients ready.
Chopping and Slicing
- Slice the spring onions (scallions) thinly, we'll be using all of the spring onion, green and white.
- Finely chop or slice the onion.
- If your tuna isn't already pre cut by your fishmonger, do it now. Cut the tuna into little cubes, about 2 cm (just under 1") wide, or slightly smaller, if you like. Place the tuna cubes in a large bowl.
- Remember our toasted kukui nuts? Place them in a chopper and pulse to a semi fine state. Don't keep your finger down on the button, as they'll grind too much and you will end up with a paste. Candlenuts have a very high fat content.
Assembling the Ahi Poke
- Now we are going to add all the other ingredients to the tuna in the bowl. Tip in the sliced spring onions and the chopped onions.
- Drizzle the sesame oil and soy sauce all over, followed by 3 Tbsp of inamona and some crushed nori, about 1 Tbsp. Just crush the nori with your fingers. Now mix this all up thoroughly.
- Dish up into individual bowls or side plates and top with a small sprinkling of more inamona and seaweed. Serve immediately.You could also turn this into a poke bowl by serving it over a bowl of plain white rice, with more soy sauce and sesame oil on the side.