After last year’s string of rants, everyone knows my thoughts on summer. This year’s no different. The sooner everyone trades their board shorts and bellinis for textbooks and tea, the better. Let’s leave it at that.
A hot summer day plays tricks with your palate, though. I’ve never been one to shy away from a rich meal (hell, I’ve roasted turkeys in July with all the fixin’s). But, it’s been creeping into the 80s here in Seattle this week and the heat’s knocking me dead. Suddenly, pot after pot of Texas chili doesn’t sound so good. Even my old standbys — pizza, takeout Thai, gyros — are too heavy for sitting pantsless in front of the fan, binge-watching Stranger Things.
So, I’ve done as the clichés commanded — I couldn’t handle the heat and I got out of the kitchen. Instead, I’m looking to the masters of off-the-cuff hot weather dining — the Hawaiian islanders. With all those volcanos to explore and wahine to charm, Hawaiians have got better stuff to do than slave away over a fire in some beach shack. They just need something stupidly delicious they can throw together and get back to riding the waves (or whatever it is that Hawaiians actually do that’s less of a cartoonish stereotype).
Enter: poke — the current food trend sweeping the nation (or at least the Pacific Northwest). This raw fish salad checks all the boxes. Light? Yep. Effortless? Uh-huh. Stupidly delicious? You betcha. Poke’s a magic amalgam of Chinese and Japanese food that’s more than the sum of its influences, satisfying and refreshing all at once. Besides, the way I figure it: If a dish helps some 400 lb. kahuna stay cool in Kaua’i, I better take note.
At its simplest, poke (pronounced PO-kay) is just some cubed fish tossed in a dressing. Think of it like a riff on tuna tartare. Traditionally, it incorporates a Pan-Asian panoply of ingredients — ahi tuna, soy sauce, scallions, sesame oil. Sweet Maui onions factor heavily. Crushed nuts (macadamia or kukui) offer a waxy-crunchy break in texture. It’s just a great idea made from a few great ingredients.
And, like most great food ideas, poke can run off in a thousand directions. Around here, Sam Choy and his kindred spirits keep it classic with similar flavours and two or three varieties of fish. Tuna. Salmon. Maybe octopus or snapper. It works beautifully and it’s hard to complain about.
Still, it’s not like the Pacific Rim has a monopoly on raw fish. The Mediterranean has been serving up fish crudos for ages (or at least as long as sashimi has driven pretentious Californians wild).
Which brings us to today’s pan-global mash-up — one drawing on two great culinary traditions to make something a little different. Something extremely tasty. Something easy enough to hack together while drunk on your porch. Let’s make some Spanish tuna poke.
Spanish Tuna Poke
Serves 2 (with accompaniments)
- ¾ lb ahi tuna
- ½ large Spanish onion
- 20-30 leaves Italian parsley
- 2 tbsps sliced almonds
- 1½ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff, probably from a specialty food store)
Slice tuna against the grain into ½” tiles (or roughly as wide as your little finger).
Cut these tiles into ½” dice (still roughly as wide as your little finger).
Radial slice the onion into ¼” strands (about the width of a chopstick).
Tear the parsley leaves into tiny pieces.
Toast the sliced almonds in a pan set over low heat until they start to darken and turn fragrant (five minutes, give or take). Pay attention and watch out here — they can easily burn and taste like crap.
Combine the tuna, onion, parsley, smoked paprika, olive oil, soy sauce, most of the almonds, a few cracks of pepper, and a big three-finger pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to coat everything.
Taste and adjust the seasonings, checking if it needs more soy sauce, oil, paprika, or salt.
Serve the Spanish tuna poke over rice and top with the rest of the almonds. A couple of parsley leaves and a dusting of smoked paprika won’t hurt either.
Dig in, hoaloha (or is that amigos?) A big bowl of this stuff and a bottle of rosé’ll help you beat the heat until we can all leave summer behind and get down to what we really want to do…