Mainland-Style Ahi Poke, aka Tuna Tartare

No single dish says “Hawaii” to me more than Ahi Poke.  It brings back memories of when I first lived in the Hawaiian islands, on Maui, during my windsurfing-bookwriting-sabbatical-from-San-Francisco-lawyer-life days. My roommate, Rick, and I used to get ”Poke” (make sure you say Po-Kay, not Po-Key, I think that means something else!) from the market every time we went shopping. It was spicy and rich, and crunchy from the green onions, all at the same time. We were both on tight budgets, so it was a luxury item we looked forward to. Even so, the small container we picked up never lasted more than a few hours.

Ahi Poke means simply “Ahi, Sliced.”  Ahi Poke originated with Hawaii’s fishermen and was nothing more than a blend sliced fresh raw ahi tuna, limu (seaweed) and Hawaiian salt. With the Japanese influence in the islands, the recipe has evolved to often include Shoyu (soy sauce) and/or wasabi.

Local-style Ahi Poke is something you’ll find here on the islands at almost any gathering or special occasion. But it’s not just for parties.  It’s an every day kind of thing. Many grocery stores even have a special deli section that features just Ahi Poke, in several different preparations.

On the mainland, people know Ahi Poke as Tuna Tartare. Tuna Tartare (and Ahi Poke)  come in more variations that you can name. One of my favorite dishes for years,  at Michael Mina’s renowned San Francisco restaurant, Aqua, was the Tuna Tartare. I really don’t think I have ever had a better version than that original recipe.

So luckily for me, the other day, our neighbor, Michael, brought over some fresh Ahi that he had just caught. Perfect opportunity to make my own version of Ahi Poke. This recipe is loosely based on the Tuna Tartare that was once served at Aqua.  I’ve tried to remember what I think was in it, but it has been about 10 years and my memory fails me!

Mainland-Style Ahi Poke (aka Tuna Tartare)

1 Pound Fresh, Sashimi Grade Ahi
1 1/2 TBS Sesame Oil
1 Tsp Kosher Salt
1 Tsp Fresh Grated Ginger (or 1/4 Tsp of Ground Powdered Ginger)
1 Tsp Red Chili Powder
1/4 Tsp Allspice
1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Red Anjou Pear (Peeled, cored)
4 TBSP toasted Pine Nuts
Optional: 1 Raw Egg Yolk (if not using egg yolk, increase sesame oil by 1/2 TBSP)

Toast the pine nuts on foil, on a baking sheet, in the oven at 450 degrees, for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Remove from oven and from the baking sheet.

Mix together, in medium glass bowl, oil, egg yolk, salt and spices. Dice the Ahi into small cubes, 1/4 to 1/3 inch is best. Use a very sharp knife or you will not have a lot of success dicing the tuna into small, uniform pieces.

Dice the pear into 1/4 inch cubes. Make sure you are using a relatively firm and not an over-ripe pear.

Toss the ahi into the bowl with the oil mixture, stir to cover tuna with the oil and spices.  Add the grated fresh ginger, diced pears, and pine nuts. Stir gently to combine all ingredients. 

Serve Mainland-Style Ahi Poke immediately on plain crackers, Lavosh,  or Toast Points (toasted bread, crusts cut off, cut into 4 triangles). 

Serves 4.

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