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A Taste Of Home

CJ Kanuha shares what makes a classic dish so special

CJ Kanuha is the owner of Ali’i Poke and Aloha Vibes Bar and Grill. We visited his business to watch him work his magic in the kitchen, and gather some local tips and history about poke, the classic Hawaiian dish that is taking the culinary world by storm.

First, let's start with some key ingredients to make this amazing recipe. Fish, limu, 'inamona, and pa’akai.

The fish we use nowadays, this nice square-cubed fish, wasn't what the Hawaiians originally used. They used everything left on the scrapings and mixed it together, making it so it would almost be like a Lomi style. Kind of a chop-chop but as you might already know, ancient Hawaiians didn't have knives.

Fresh-caught local fish is always the best. We support all our local fishermen. That’s the way that will give you the best results. If we don’t have it, we don’t sell it. Yet, at home, you can use many types of fish, but yellowfin is what I recommend. If you don’t have access to fresh-caught, the frozen option works just as well. But remember to let your frozen fish thaw for about 24 hours in the fridge, then put it in a colander and let it dry overnight.

There are many different types of limu (seaweed). Today we are using a lime ogo that we farm here. This is more of a traditional seaweed. There are many varieties and ways to use seaweed in dishes. In my opinion, limu kohu is the best one. It has a somewhat reminiscent iodine flavor where all you need is Hawaiian salt, and it makes the best-tasting fish.

In the original Hawaiian poke, 'inamona was huge — basically, roasted kukui nuts, infused with pa'akai, Hawaiian salt. If you don't have access to kukui nuts you can roast macadamia nuts.

True original poke was simple. What the Hawaiians would do was infuse the fish with Hawaiian salt (pa'akai) and seaweed. That was basically what you ate.

Okay now to the recipes. First, Hawaiian-style poke.

What we're going to work on first is going to be my favorite. Growing up for me, the Hawaiian style poke was always what was brought around in our family, my Dad being pure Hawaiian. Hawaiian-style poke is what the Hawaiians actually started with.

First, you need 6-8 oz of yellowfin tuna. Add your pa’akai (Hawaiian Salt) and your ‘inamona. Then add a little bit of the limu. After the limu add some red pepper flakes to your preference. Then add white onion. For this recipe don’t use Maui sweet onion. A really good white onion brings out the flavor. Lastly, add the scallions. Mix it together. There is no binder, no oil. The binder is the fish. Since there is no oil, this will keep for several days in the fridge, and be just as fresh as when you made it. This is Hawaiian style. This is my favorite.

The second recipe is simple Shoyu Poke.

Take your yellowfin tuna. Like before, you want to add a little bit of pa’akai, and mix it so there’s one piece of salt on each piece of fish. You don’t need that much. Add a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Add some freshly grated ginger and a little fresh-grated garlic. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil. In this recipe, add your Maui sweet onions. I like the sweet with the salty. Put in a little bit of red pepper flake. Add a little bit of toasted sesame seeds. Finally, add your soy sauce. Go a little by little to taste. Garnish with fresh scallions. What I like to do at the end — a little secret — is a little bit of honey.

One more recipe. Sesame Poke.

This is my go-to whenever I’m traveling and have a hard time finding ingredients. This one you can also make this one with many different kinds of fish. It’s an homage to the Hawaiian, but it has very simple ingredients, so you can bring that taste of home wherever you go.

Use your fresh fish, 6-8 ounces, always. For this one, add a little more salt to it, and the salt will give a good flavor to the fish. Use some fresh onions. Add some toasted sesame oil. Make sure you get good sesame oil for this one. Go to the Asian aisle in any store. This one I like making a little bit spicier with the chili peppers. Add some scallions and sesame seeds at the end to garnish.

Dig in.

In all poke, I like the fish to speak for itself. Poke to me brings back family, brings back a taste of what we grew up with as local fishermen. Poke recognizes culture and the mix of cultures we have in Hawai'i nei. It reminds me of the culture and feel of home. Poke is a global hit now, but anywhere you go, traveling as a native Hawaiian, this is something that I make.

Growing up in Hawai'i, you learn how to make fish in so many different ways. We learned to reinvent the stuff that we grew up with. Now wherever I go, poke brings a sense of home.

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