A few years back on a trip along the Kona coast of Hawaii I made an effort to introduce myself to authentic Hawaiian food. Poke is a preparation of raw fish that represents the best of the traditional, but it’s also friendly to modern influences and flavors. According to my research, poke has been eaten on the Hawaiian Islands longer than any other food. Captain James Cook was even served a simple form of poke during his visits to Hawaii as far back as 1878. Today poke can be found everywhere from high-end resorts to hole-in-the-wall eateries. It comes pre-made at the grocery store, or lovingly prepared by home cooks. It’s a must at island parties and celebrations. No luau would be complete without at least 3 or 4 poke choices. So why not make one of those choices poke pie?
Poke (pronounced POE-kay) is a Hawaiian word meaning “to slice or cut crosswise into pieces as in fish or wood.”
Well, it’s good to have a word that covers both tasks, but eventually, the word became a shorthand phrase for any sort of raw fish that has been gutted, gilled and filleted. Initially, the entire slab of fish was passed around and eaten by everyone in the group each spitting out the inedible parts and bones. But that does not really appeal to me so I am presenting an updated version in the form of tiny little “pies” that can be enjoyed during more mundane dining practices like cocktail parties.
I’m calling this little appetizer poke pie. But it’s not really pie. Instead, it’s a toasted wonton topped with a form of poke that may or may not strike you as traditional. That’s because poke has been evolving for a very long time and there are as many versions as there are fish in the ocean. It may have started as a simple food pulled from the sea and eaten on the spot, but creative chefs have long been innovating traditional poke styles to appease the multi-cultural palates of tourists and locals alike. Even the ancient Hawaiians began gentrifying the preparation to make it more suitable for “polite company” (or in the Hawaiian’s case– royalty). Some of the earliest preparations involved mashing the raw fish using the cook’s fingers. This way even the smallest bones could be detected and removed. But don’t worry my poke pie doesn’t require you to manhandle your meal. GREG