It’s amazing to me that in this day and age I can buy a slab of Hawaiian bigeye ahi tuna at the one-room fishmonger shack on the jetty, and not a small packet of Prague powder #1 (a.k.a. sodium nitrite, a.k.a. curing salt, a.k.a. pink salt, a.k.a. “that ingredient which is essential for curing any kind of meat”) at Cabela’s, the largest specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, and camping equipment in the world. When I asked for pink salt the sales rep took it upon himself to explain to me (unprompted) exactly how much floor space they had in their enormous store, exactly how many thousands of products they distributed (I forget the number because I was busy disliking his face), and the exact profit margin that determined which of said products found space on the shelves and which must be ordered online. Suffice to say, if you want a gun that makes jerky, Cabela’s can accommodate you, but if you want some basic curing supplies, you’re shit out of luck. Sorry Cabela’s, you let me down this time. My guanciale will have to make do without you.
Fortunately the weekend was saved by the slab of ahi tuna. My wife has recently returned from Hawaii, where so far as I can tell she spent her days flying planes over gorgeous tumbling cliffs and then eating poke. Poke (pronounced po-kay) is a raw fish salad based on tuna. It’s available sold by the pound at any corner store on the islands, apparently. Today we made some. Oh my gods, it’s at least as good as a gun that makes jerky. At least!
Leslie’s Ahi Poke
About ½ lb ahi tuna, sashimi grade
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or less)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sambal olek
2 macadamia nuts, crushed in a mortar and pestle
Slice the tuna into pieces about the size of gambers dice. Mix with all the other ingredients in a bowl, marinate for two hours.
We served this with a soba-seaweed salad which I cribbed from Nigella Lawson’s book “How to Eat.” Have you ever heard of such a wonderfully arrogant title for a cookbook? If you doubt Nigella’s authority to dictate “the pleasures and principles of good food”, ask yourself who else could write the following description: “The custard should be firm but not immobile; when you press it with your fingers it should feel set but with a little wobble still within. When you eat it it should be just warm, soft, and voluptuous, like an eighteenth-century courtesan’s inner thigh”? I will eat anything devised by a person who can write a statement like that. Since Nigella is richer than God hopefully she won’t sue me for roughly reproducing it here.
Nigella Lawson’s Seaweed-Soba Salad
Handful dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
Handful wakame seaweed
4 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons mirin
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
A tiny pinch instant dashi granules
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 green onion, minced
Place all of the ingredients except the noodles, the green onion, and the seaweed in a small jar and shake to mix. Soak the wakame seaweed in cold water for at least 15 minutes. Cook the noodles in boiling water. When done, drain them, rinse them with cold water, put them in a bowl and fill with more cold water. Drain again when the noodles are cold.
Mix with the seaweed and dressing. Garnish with green onions.
The beautifully spicy silky protein-rushy tuna is the perfect foil for the bland comforting noodles. Frankly, this is one of the best meals I have ever had. Thank you, Nigella. Thank you, Hawaii. Thank you, everyone on Earth. But not you, Cabela’s, until you stock Prague powder #1.