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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Poke Bowl 101: An Introduction to Awesomeness

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron.
Tuna Poke Bowl

Depending on where you live, poke bowls could be anything from a curiosity you’ve seen popping up at local restaurants or sushi counters to a mainstay part of your culinary world.

While they are ubiquitous in Hawaii, where the dish originated as a blend of Japanese and Hawaiian culinary traditions, a quick Google search shows a growing number of poke bowl shops in Toronto. Alas, in my hometown of London, Ontario, there isn’t a poke bowl shop to be found -- although I was lucky enough to discover the dish as a special at the best craft beer bar in town.

In Hawaiian, “poke” means “to cut crosswise into pieces” or even just “to cut or to slice”, and that alone should give you a pretty good idea of what the dish is and what you are in store for when preparing it. You can think of it as deconstructed sushi if that helps, but to me, the way a poke bowl eats makes it an even more satisfying meal.

For starters, the bed of rice served as the base of the bowl is warm, which gives the dish a balance of hot and cold that most sushi doesn’t have. From there, every mouthful is a wonderful mixture of salty and sweet, soft and crunchy. So, when I saw the beautiful, little piece of tuna below frozen and vacuum packed at my local Farm Boy, I knew it was time to make my first poke bowl. 


Before I got to work on all the cutting (with my slow and cumbersome but relatively effective knife skills), I got everything I needed together for a group photo:

poke bowl ingredients

First up, the marinade, so it can go back into the fridge to marinate the tuna while you do the rice and all your slicing. It was dead simple but very flavourful:

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

Ginger root is one of my absolute favourite things and something I find more and more pleasing with each passing year. The lesson? Being old kicks ass. The is what is looks like:

grated ginger

And this is what the marinade looks like:

soy ginger marinade

Now, onto the star of the show: the tuna! I am by no means an expert in the kitchen or with a knife, which is why I’m the Beer Baron and not the… Butchering Baron? Anyway, I still have a few tips to share:

  1. Put the tuna in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes. Not enough to freeze it solid, just enough to help it keep its form a little bit better and make your life easier when cutting it.
  2. Decide how thick you want to cut the pieces. If you LOVE raw tuna, then go a bit thicker at about ½ an inch (just more than a centimeter too all you hosers) and if you are new to it and want a little bit less of the raw texture or fishy taste, go smaller. 
  3. When you are cutting the tuna, pull your knife backwards towards you, starting at the heel of the blade and use the longest, sharpest knife you have. The goal is to try to make the cuts in one slice and avoid a front-and-back sawing motion.
Not all my slices were perfect, but I enjoyed the process and did ok:

sliced raw tuna

Going from the thin slices to the cubes was a little more challenging, as the tuna was getting warmer having been out of the freezer for longer, as I’m so slow, but they were decent:
raw tuna

The tuna goes into the marinade and into the fridge. 

tuna in soy ginger marinade

Start your rice cooking while you work on the rest of your cutting / poke-ing. Traditionally, you’d use short-grain sushi rice. But one of the great things about poke bowls is that there is really no right or wrong. It’s not a science like baking. I had long grain rice, so that’s what made it into my bowl.

Dice the mango:
diced mango

Slice the red onions (or leave them out altogether if they are too strong for you and you aren’t crazy about red onions like I am):

sliced red onion

Slice the jalapeno (which provide a nice bit of crunch as well as a little bit of heat):

sliced jalapeno

Chop the green onions:

sliced green onions

Slice the avocado: (I got lucky and mine was a perfect ripeness, which is a miracle unto itself. You kind of get used to picking the ever so slightly soft ones with experience, but if you want help, the internet is all about avocados:

sliced avocado

Now, it’s time to assemble your masterpiece. Keep in mind that no poke bowl is perfect for everyone but do your best to make it perfect for you. If you like more or less of any one ingredient, go for it. (Also, I dumbly didn’t include cucumbers in this dish, which would have been perfect. Radishes too, for that matter.) Lay down your bed of warm rice:


Top it with your marinated tuna:

Surround the tuna with the mangos and avocado:

poke bowl

And then add your final garnishes, including a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a little bit of freshly squeezed lime juice. (Don’t use the lime juice in the marinade or earlier in the process. The goal isn’t to cook the tuna with it, just add a nice hit of acid.) 

tuna poke bowl

As the Beer Baron, I was thinking that a session IPA (nothing too crazy to wreck your palate), a fruity sour, or a weissbier with tropical notes would all be nice pairings -- and they certainly would have been. In the end, I chose a Riesling, as they tend to be great with lightly spicy foods and the balance of minerality and fruitiness was a perfect complement to the balance of the poke bowl. However you make your poke bowl and whatever you pair it with, I hope you enjoy it. Cheers!

how to make a poke bowl