Poke, STRAIGHT FROM HAWAII
Chefs are fusing chopped fish dish with other culinary traditions to produce delicious mash-ups
He came for a throw-down armed with knives, Hawaiian seaweed, Hawaiian lava salt and Hawaiian fish.
Chef Tom Muromoto flew in from Maui recently for a poke (po-kay) rumble with chef Michael Winning of Beach Bay Café. He had heard poke is all the rage in Vancouver.
Poke restaurants are popping up like corn in Vancouver — Poke Guy, Westcoast Poke, Pacific Poke, Poke Time, Pokkerito, Islands Café (White Rock) all specialize in poke — and other restaurants have jumped aboard with at least one poke dish on the menu.
Often they’re poke bowls, with rice as the base.
You’d think as a Hawaiian, Muromoto would own poke, be the Grand Poohbah of this long-lived Hawaiian dish and have loud opinions on what it is and should be.
That might be so with a French chef talking of cassoulet or an Italian chef with definite rules about Neapolitan pizza, but Muromoto, the executive chef at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, is pretty laid back, Island style.
He approves of what’s happening to poke, which is pretty much everything you can throw at it.
Hawaiians are, thanks to plantation era, like their popular lunch, a mixed plate. They are all about fusing cuisines. Modern Hawaiian cuisine is about local ingredients and throwing Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Polynesian, Indian and Korean culinary traditions at it. You want to tamper with their simple poke? Go ahead.
“Poke basically means chunks. It originated with fishermen who had small pieces of fish left; they didn’t want to waste it.” — CHEF TOM MUROMOTO
“Poke’s been forever in Hawaii. You just start with fresh flavours from the ocean. And now we’re using all kinds of different flavours and sauces. Even supermarkets are starting to expand on it and selling different varieties of poke,” Muromoto said in an interview.
“I’m fascinated with food in Vancouver and I want to be influenced. It’s poke from Hawaii meets poke from Vancouver.
“Poke basically means chunks. It’s the way you cut the fish. I’ve always used cubes,” he says. “It originated with fishermen who had small pieces of fish left; they didn’t want to waste it so they’d make a poke for a snack. It’s now prepared for fine dining, fast food, for salads and it’s even cooked. There’s a wide range of preparations.”
Winning has a similar amalgamated background. He’s been a private chef to several billionaire types over the past 15 years and they’ve taken him to 88 countries.
“I travelled like a billionaire would,” he says. He’s lived in 17 cities and developed a cooking style through travel osmosis. In Lima, Peru, he learned about ceviche and in Maui, where he lived for a time, he got to know poke. “For me, it’s a natural evolution,” says Winning.
Winning uses flash-frozen seafoods. “It doesn’t detract from flavour; the freezing is so modern, so amazing, it preserves the integrity of the product. Sashimi grade fish would all have been flash frozen,” he says.
Muromoto says there are some traditions to making poke. “Hawaiians use ocean products for the salt flavour. Ogo (the red Hawaiian seaweed he packed for the poke throwdown) has a salty, ocean flavour. Poke commonly has ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. I brought some lava salt because it has some of that charred flavour. I’m sprinkling it as garnish.” Roasted kukui nut (candlenut) is another old-school ingredient in poke. More recently, green onions, chili peppers and soy sauce are commonly used. Before refrigeration, salt nicely preserved the fish and Hawaii certainly produces a lot of interesting salts.
As far as throwdowns go, it was a friendly match, free of combat and easygoing, Hawaiian-style; they cooked side by side in the open kitchen, each making a poke dish and a couple of canapés to feed the crowd. Muromoto made a spicy ahi poke with mayo, lava salt, seasoned ogo. I can see why he took the trouble to travel with ogo and lava salt. They provided texture and brought a bit of the briny ocean to the plate.
Winning made his poke with wild B.C. salmon, roasted and sweet ginger, sesame, cilantro, lemon and tamari. Two house-made potato chips added crisp contrast. And that’s the poke he has put on the Beach Bay menu.
They then filled our tummies to the brim. Muromoto made braised short ribs on bao buns, Kona kampachi (white firm-textured fish) with pohole (fiddlehead) fern tartare; Winning whipped up ginger cumin orange-glazed pork tenderloin with seared sea scallop and tomato apricot relish and grilled octopus with tomato shrimp chipotle.
Winning’s Hawaiian Infusion cocktail (pistachio infused vodka, grapefruit juice, lime cordial, Ancho Reyes Chili liqueur and ginger) and Coconut Hiwa Porter beer from Maui Brewing Co. along with Okanagan wines completed the Maui meets Vancouver experience.