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Poke in the Swim


Italian crudo, Latin American escabeche and Mexican ceviche are proof that low- or no-cook fish preparations can take many forms on menus, but most have not yet reached the mainstream penetration of sushi. That could change as Hawaiian poke (pronounced poh-kay) makes a splash across the nation.

Traditional poke is a salad of raw marinated fish (often fresh tuna) served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. As it proliferates on U.S. menus, however, poke is quickly morphing into new forms.

Full-service sports bar chain Yard House features Poke Nachos, made with wonton chips and marinated tuna dressed in three sauces: lemon Sriracha aioli, a teriyaki-like sweet soy glaze, and aioli with white truffle oil and soy sauce. The nachos are topped with nori seaweed strips, sliced serrano peppers, green onions, and sesame seeds.

Along with its similarity to sushi, poke also owes its appeal to the mixing and matching of fish, sauces, ingredients and heat levels, according to Rachel Royster, senior coordinator, editorial content at Datassential, who says the fast casual boom of the past few years has led “customers to expect some level of customization these days.”

Royster explains how concepts that focus on one basic offering, like poke, have the advantage of being able to perfect their craft and allow diners to create their own experiences. She points to Chicago’s Aloha Poke Co. as an example of a poke-centric menu that can be made to order with fresh, light ingredients such as ginger, pineapple, scallion, cucumbers and more.

Poke also fits well into the bowl meal trend. At Rio Acai Bowls in Fresno, Calif., acai is the star, but poke bowls make up a strong supporting cast. The bowls layer ahi (tuna), rice, seaweed, sesame oil and varying degrees of spice. At Culver City, Calif.-based Lemonade, a chain of 24-plus modern marketplaces, raw tuna is cut into bite-size chunks and flavored with fresh ginger, red chili, avocado and sesame vinaigrette for California-style poke.

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • A cook-free fish preparation class for basic how-to and food safety tips
  • “Poke Month” with weekly specials of bowls, wraps and salads
  • Cross-merchandise prepared poke dishes at the fresh fish counter
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