What’s In Your Bowl? We Asked 3 Local Chefs for Their Secrets to a Perfect Poke Bowl
It was probably inevitable that poke bowls would branch off from poke’s evolving trajectory and become their own thing. After all, Hawai‘i loves fish, Hawai‘i loves rice, and most local Asian cuisines feature some form of proteins piled on top of rice.
The first poke bowl on record, according to many, dates to 1992 at Kahuku Superette; in 2008 the owners of Pā‘ina Café, which dubs itself the home of the original poke bowl, debuted a spot called Poke Bowl. And now pretty much anywhere there’s a poke counter, there are poke bowls.
Choices today go far beyond simply seasoned seafood atop rice. Mainland poke chains and even shops that have sprouted up in Hawai‘i in recent years offer buffetlike DIY choices of seafood and nonseafood mains (including chicken—here’s looking at you, Pokeway), sauces (yuzu ranch, anyone?) and such bases as zucchini noodles and coconut rice (sacrilege!). And we’ve all heard about toppings like baby corn, carrots and pineapple.
Against this plethora, we turned to the pros. We asked three chefs for their best tips on making a perfect poke bowl.
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Lee Anne Wong
Chef/owner of Papa‘aina at The Pioneer Inn in Lahaina, executive chef/partner of Koko Head Café and former consulting partner at Sweetcatch Poke in New York City
“Move beyond the standard shoyu and sesame oil and get creative with your sauces. I take inspiration from many culinary cultures, for example Korean-style poke with Asian pear and pine nuts, similar to yukhoe (steak tartare); or furikake-style poke with an umami-packed dashi dressing, garnished with furikake and arare rice crackers.
“Green onion, sweet onion, limu ogo and creamy avocado chunks all add flavor and texture; so do sea asparagus, hearts of palm and pohole ferns.
“Poke is magical over a warm bowl of rice, but you can enjoy it over any type of grain, noodle or healthy alternatives such as kelp noodles, quinoa and leafy greens.”
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Chef and co-founder of The Pili Group and Chef Hui, and educator at Punahou School
“You really gotta use good fish. Poke is about the fish to me. Anybody can whip up a yummy sauce and cover the hell out of subpar fish or zucchini noodles, frozen salmon or whatever some guys are doing. However, dressing a fish with minimal components or a sauce that actually complements the fish and enhances the experience of eating it? That’s how you make poke.
“The rice? I’m a sucker for Korean mixed rice, always hot. And negi (green onion)—plenty fine-sliced negi.”
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Chef partner of Poke to the Max food trucks and restaurants (West Coast), founder of the Poke Festival and Recipe Contest, and author of poke cookbooks
“My favorite poke bowl is a layered bowl: Edamame rice first, then avocado and grape tomato salad, then nice mixed greens and wakame seaweed salad, then kim chee poke topped off with unagi kabayaki sauce, my creamy Oriental dressing or gochujang aioli. Yummy! But all poke bowls can be garnished with almost anything your heart desires.”