Poke Me

poke

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.

noodles

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.

10 comments to Poke Me

  • I love your foodie blog posts so much, Daniel. “‘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.” — so awesome!

  • War Pig

    Speaking of poke, Daniel, have you ever had a southern delicacy called poke salad?

  • @War Pig, I have not. I just looked it up and I see it is poisonous if not properly prepared. The fugu of the South?

  • War Pig

    Sort of. But then acorns, chestnuts, peanuts and other foods have to be prepared/treated properly or else they can be deleterious. I wonder how ancient humans figured out how to prepare foods to keep from the food killing them or making them ill? Cassava, various mushrooms & other fungus, fugu, poke salad, acorns, etc. Heck, I wonder how cooking of meat and plants itself got started?

    But poke salad is eaten all over the US southland. I’ve had it on several occasions. It used to be considered poor food as it was gathered, cooked and eaten by poor folk (Black and White) in the South. Now it’s considered by many to be a southern delicacy.

    Like fugu, I’d have someone who knows what they’re doing prepare it for you and/or show you how to leach and cook it. Poke salad was made famous by a one-hit-wonder song called “Poke Salad Annie” written and sang by Tony Joe White. Here’s the song on YouTube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRF24LY5pvw

    You’ll notice there is a variant spelling of poke salad, also spelled polk salad or polk/poke salat. I’ve seen it spelled all four ways in southern cookbooks. The plant itself is pokeweed.

    Did you know that the US Constitution was written using ink made from poke berries?

  • I read a theory once that we only became modern humans because of cooking. Since cooked food is so much easier to eat and digest we no longer had to chew our food all day (like chimpanzees do) and liberated a lot of energy required for brain development. If that’s the case, we are only human BECAUSE we cook. Interesting idea.

  • War Pig

    I agree, yet I still wonder how it came about. Pretty much all animals except humans fear fire to a greater or lesser degree (humans are also one of the few animals who aren’t afraid of vacuum cleaners ;-) ). Humans LOVE fire. When did we separate from the pack on that? What caused us to stick meat in the fire on a stick to cook it? How did we find out that if certain foods, like cassava, were cooked or processed in a certain way, they went from poison to nutritious? The heck with the big questions in evolution, I wanna know the gestalt of the ancient human and near-human experience. I bet we talked and laughed and made rude jokes about sex and scat almost a million years ago. We also shared recipes. Cooking may have made us human, but I bet speech made us actual, modern humans. Of course, with better food and fewer parasites in it, etc, due to cooking we had more time and calories to develop even larger brains; and more leisure time to craft stone tools – and make sex and scat jokes and tell funny stories about the lion who caught his testicles in the thorn bush.

  • I have to say humans DO fear fire unless said fire is tiny and completely controlled. Domestic cats like tiny controlled fires too. You are right about the vacuum cleaners however. God works in mysterious ways.

    Another theory I read somewhere once: it is commonly assumed that language came about as a way of organizing tasks, as in “You dig pit. I frighten mammoth. Mammoth fall in pit.” But this theory proposed it was more likely language evolved from social grooming, i.e. gossip, since humans are unable to talk more than five minutes on a serious subject before they have to add something personal. I believe Gary Larson had a cartoon of gorillas gossiping as they groomed each other. It seems very likely to me.

  • Muzhik

    @War Pig, I’d wager the discovery of cooking was an act of desperation. Picture the scene: a lightning stroke ignited the grasslands; the small tribe survived only because they managed to clamber above a collection of rocks just before the wave of flames swept past them. Now the fires have died, extinguished by the rains that came through just before dawn. Now the tribe staggers through the blackened landscape, thirst quenched by pools of smokey, char-filled water, but all the grains they would normally gather and eat turned to dust.

    All they can find that they might use to fill their bellies are the shells of nests, the eggs inside cooked solid but not burned up due to the swiftness of the flames. The bodies of foxes and birds are also found, charred and blackened but with their flesh still edible (if you like that sort of “scorched flesh” stench).

    The addition of baked garlic to the scorched flesh was a happy accident, undoubtedly used to cover the taste of burned meat.

  • Maybe I’ll write a “Clan of the Cave Bear” style book, with the inventions of horse riding, spear throwers, flint and tinder etc, replaced with a caveman version of Iron Chef. Interesting cooking must have been highly prized when all kitchen gadgets were rocks and all meats were game. We could even meet that brave man who first ate an oyster, to paraphrase Swift.

  • War Pig

    I saw a theory once that very early humans living near lakes and especially the oceans evolved faster as they ate a lot of (then uncontaminated) fish, shellfish and crustaceans. The high protein value and the various fish oils gave then an advantage and helped increase brain size. Maybe they tried cooking fish as they were already familiar with seared animal flesh and decided to try it on fish (which would incidentally eliminate parasites). As for oysters, various animals have been eating shellfish as long as they could get them and open them. Humans would have picked that up. And by sitting them near the fire, found out it opened them easily and made them more palatable; although I prefer my oysters on the half shell and still alive. I like live, raw oysters not dead, raw oysters. I also like oysters fried, scalloped, in dressing, etc.

    Gossip, yes, but I also believe humans invented dirty jokes very early on. Humans have a universal need to laugh and other humans are the easiest fodder for humor. Remember that scene in “Caveman” wherein one caveman got his head hair scorched off and all laughed, then he turned around another and showed where his butt had been scorched and they all laughed harder? Then the caveman in “Quest For Fire” laughing at another who had a rock or something fall on his head? Humans laugh, gossip and tell dirty jokes in ALL societies I have ever heard of or had contact with. Only the language changes.