Poke bowls are one of the biggest trends on the food scene this year, but for those outside major cities — or who don’t have bank accounts big enough to fund a poke bowl habit — getting your fins on this healthy and delicious dish can be a pain. The good news, though: You can easily make your own poke bowl at home. And because of the many benefits of seafood, it’s a good idea to do so!
“Fish is a fantastic source of high quality protein and it’s lower in saturated fat than most meat,” says Heather Mangieri, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of Fueling Young Athletes. “Many varieties of fish also offer the benefit of providing omega-3s, which most Americans don’t eat enough.”
Get your fill with this guide to DIY poke bowls.
What Is a Poke Bowl?
Poke is a traditional Hawaiian fish salad that’s near ubiquitous in the islands. In this dish, raw fish gets an Asian sauce marinade, like soy sauce and sesame oil. Of late, the dish has been co-opted (for better or worse) by mainland restaurants that typically serve it in a bowl with rice or salad and other garnishes. (The original poke — pronounced poh-kay, but not actually spelled with an accent over the e, as you’ll see most places — was just the marinated fish salad.) Poke politics aside, we love that it’s become a well-rounded standalone meal that can take you on an armchair vacation to the tropics. Here’s how.
Step 1: Find Your Fish
While many embrace raw fish with open arms (er, mouths), the idea of “cooking” with raw fish can still be a little frightening for many home chefs. After all, no one wants to suffer through less-than-fresh fish. “People have been eating raw fish for years,” says Mangieri. However, she notes, “As with any food, it’s important to handle it properly to reduce your risk of food-borne illness.”
While your first instinct may be to simply go for the fish labeled “sushi-grade,” it turns out this doesn’t necessarily mean anything specific in the U.S., where the label is not regulated. However, according to PBS, “most stores aren’t in the business of getting their customers sick, so they usually reserve the label for their freshest fish.” In other words, you can usually assume the sushi-grade fish is freshest.
RELATED: 7 Quick and Delicious Poke Recipes
There’s more to choosing a safe raw fish than just freshness, though. It’s key to follow a few food safety steps. For example, raw fish shouldn’t be cut on the same cutting board as cooked fish. Some fish, like salmon, can contain parasites so it needs to be frozen for a minimum time period to kill off anything harmful before being sold for raw consumption. A fishmonger who understands sushi standards will help you make a smart buy, as long as you communicate that you plan to eat your fish raw. “Make sure that you are purchasing [sushi-grade fish] from a source, store or restaurant that you trust,” says Mangieri. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions on where it came from.”
Of course, while raw is the traditional route, it’s not the only way to go. If you’re not comfortable prepping raw fish or don’t have a trusted place to buy it, you can always make your poke bowl with smoked or cooked fish. “You’ll still get the health benefits and won’t have to worry about food-borne illness,” says Mangieri.
Step 2: Choose the Ingredients
Once you’ve picked your fish, you’ve got the rest of your bowl to consider. Traditional poke is served without any accompaniments, but feel free to get creative with your bowl. A few ingredients to consider:
Grain or green: “You can boost the nutrient value by selecting whole grain rice over white and loading up on the vegetables,” says Mangieri. While white sushi rice is the most common poke bowl base, you can also opt for brown rice or even other grains, like quinoa or soba noodles. If you’d rather veg-up your bowl, go for salad greens, like lettuce or kale or opt for zucchini noodles for the ultimate food trend mash-up.
Add the garnishes: The traditional ingredients for poke include onions, seaweed and sesame seeds. Good choices: green or sweet onions, like vidalia or maui. Try to avoid hot or pungent onions. If you can find them, hijiki or wakimi seaweed are best for a poke bowl, but nori will do as well. You’ll include these ingredients when you marinate your fish.
Top off your bowl: If you find an ingredient in sushi, you’ll probably love it in your bowl. So pile on the toppings. Avocado is a popular choice, as are sweet tropical fruits like mango and pineapple. Crunchy veggies like carrots and cucumbers can offer a nice texture change, too.
Get saucy: Of course, your fish will get a marinade (more on that in step three), but many bloggers and chefs also choose to top their poke bowl with a little extra flavor, like spicy mayo or more soy sauce. Take your pick, but be careful about sodium and too-high fat, which will spike the calorie content, Mangieri warns.
Step 3: Prep Your Poke Bowl
Before putting your bowl together, toss your fish with traditional garnishes (that is, onions, seaweed and sesame seeds) and sauce — aka, the “poke” part of your poke bowl. While there are recipes for the perfect poke sauce, a simple combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and perhaps some red pepper (like in this recipe) tastes great, too. Mix the sauce and remaining poke ingredients together just a couple minutes before you’re ready to chow down. In the meantime, assemble the rest of your bowl. Top with your poke when you’re ready and enjoy!
For some more delicious poke bowl inspiration, try these seven quick and yummy recipes.