He did and he didn’t. According to the legend, Maui, demigod and a hero of Hawaiian folklore, had been mercilessly teased by his older brothers for being a poor fisherman. He kept begging them to take him fishing, but they steadily refused. In one version of the legend, he hid in their canoe and revealed himself when they were already far into the blue waters of the Pacific.
In another one, beautifully rendered by Barbara Ker Wilson and Franc Lessac, he got fed up with bullying and rejection, grabbed his magic hook, and went out on his own. He did poke [po-uk] a huge fish, i.e. hooked it and pulled it out. And what a fish it was! Yet another version calls it a Great Eel, but we’ll stick to kosher fish. Unfortunately – or maybe fortunately! – he didn’t have a chance to POKE [po-kay] it because right in front of his eyes – poof! – it turned into a chain of islands, now known as Hawaii, with the main one called – you guessed it! – Maui.
The word poke means to cut crosswise, or slice, and the national Hawaiian dish is just that: filleted and sliced raw fish marinated in soy sauce, sea salt, sesame oil, scallions, and crushed kukui nuts (candlenuts). It’s a raw fish salad, served as an appetizer, lunch, or even main dish. Poke has become increasingly popular in the U.S. lately, and in various restaurants the basic marinade is enhanced by coconut milk and/or shredded coconut, red pepper flakes, dried or fresh seaweed, and even diced pineapple, for truly Hawaiian flavor.
Even though original, centuries old Hawaiian recipe calls for Aku (Ahi) tuna, nowadays salmon is also widely used. Take a skinless filet and do what Maui never got to do – poke it. Slice your filet crosswise into bite size pieces.
I use almost a classic marinade: soy sauce, sea salt, and sesame oil, but substitute sesame seeds for the symbol of Hawaii – kukui nuts. I have seen suggestions to use macadamia nuts in many recipes that call for candlenuts (they look somewhat alike), and I tried, but didn’t like it. If you want to give it a try, remember, they have to be finely crushed, to the size of sesame seeds. Mix it all up, make sure your fish pieces are immersed, cover, and refrigerate for about twenty minutes; meanwhile you can watch this clip from a delightful Disney movie:
That was just a clip, of course, but Maui was quite a character. He stopped the sun, he raised the sky, and he performed numerous other miracles for humanity. For each miracle, he earned a special animated tattoo, as you see in the movie. And you were wondering why surfers are covered with tattoos!
The ancient Polynesian and Hawaiian fishermen apparently came up with this idea by simply using bits and pieces of fish left over after deboning and filleting to snack on. We are more sophisticated now, so we want a poke bowl. You can line it with any vegetables you want – you’ll still have a bowl. I prefer paper thin cucumber slices and red onion.
Instead of incorporating scallions as a part of marinade, I use them for garnishing, supported by just a pinch of grated carrots for color. If you are using red pepper flakes, you might want to skip carrots altogether. I hope that while you are enjoying Maui’s fish, you remember his shining example of doing good deeds for humanity!
- 1 lb salmon, skinless and filleted (alternatively, Ahi tuna)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- Coarsely ground sea salt to taste
- 3 – 4 scallions
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 teaspoon grated carrot
- Alternatively, red pepper flakes to taste
- Cut salmon into bite size pieces. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, sea salt. Mix well, cover, refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Line salad bowl with thinly sliced cucumber and red onion. Arrange marinated salmon bites.
- Garnish with scallions, grated carrots and/or red pepper flakes.
- Serve immediately.