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Nilani Johnson, a judge at the Poke Challenge at the Hawaiian Cultural Center in Midvale, watches as teams prepare the raw fish dish.

Butch and Becky Porter know how to make some delicious food -- just ask all the happy mouths that tasted the couple's winning dish during the Hawaiian Cultural Center's first poke cook-off.

Pronounced POH-kay, this traditional Hawaiian side dish is made by cutting raw fish or seafood into bite-size pieces and tossing it with onions and a variety of seasonings.

For the competition, six teams of family and friends were given one hour to create their own versions of this Hawaiian comfort food.

The Cultural Center provided the raw ahi tuna, green onions and other traditional ingredients such as Hawaiian sea salt, kimchi, red chili flakes, macadamia nuts, oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, tofu, garlic, yellow onions and wasabi. Each team could bring one special ingredient to make its dish a standout.

The end result of a POKE (Hawaiian raw fish dish) cooking competition. Members of the Hawaiian Cultural Center participated in a cook off to see who can
The end result of a POKE (Hawaiian raw fish dish) cooking competition. Members of the Hawaiian Cultural Center participated in a cook off to see who can create the best POKE dish. (Alicia Greenleigh/The Salt Lake Tribune )

It was the Porters' secret addition of dried shrimp that put them in the winner's circle.

Judges Nilani Johnson, Kimo Mack (owner of Mo'Bettah Steaks) and Vaughn Mossman (owner of Pounders Hawaiian Grill) gave the Porters high marks for originality and a fresh, not overpowering, taste.

"When I tasted their dish I had this 'Ah!' moment," said Johnson, who is the Na Kupuna, or senior citizen, leader at the center. "I could taste all the ingredients, but it had the lingering opae [shrimp] flavor. I had to give them tons of points because they came with something that was totally off the radar."

Butch Porter said he got the dried shrimp idea from a similar dish his father used to make growing up on Oahu. His years as a fisherman also helped Porter choose and handle the best parts of the fish.


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"The whole technique is knowing how to cut the fish," said Porter, who removed the white and "shreddy" parts that are difficult to chew.

"I also didn't touch the ahi too much because it breaks down," he said. "You just want to lightly fluff it to mix the sauce and other stuff in."

For centuries, Hawaiian fishermen cut the fish they caught into cubes and seasoned it with whatever ingredients they had, according to food history Web site What's Cooking America.

Poke is the Hawaiian version of the Japanese sashimi. It is served in homes and restaurants and no luau would be complete without a few bowls on the table. Poke is so common that Hawaiian grocery stores sell several versions. And every September, on the big island of Hawaii, a three-day poke festival draws more than 2,000 entries from Canada, the U.S. and the South Pacific.

While the recent Utah competition offered guests a taste of Hawaii, Johnson said the goal was to celebrate culture and traditions.

"Hawaiians have enjoyed raw fish because we took care of the oceans," she said. "There is an old Hawaiian adage that we only take what we need for that day. And if there was extra, we always shared with neighbors. We hope these are the kinds of things parents will teach kids. There are so many things to learn besides 'Mmm, good poke.' "

agreenleigh@sltrib.com

Hawaiian poke (seasoned raw fish)

1 pound Ahi tuna

1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt or sea salt

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted

1 tablespoon small dried shrimp

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 small onion, sliced into slivers

Cut tuna into 3/4-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, sesame seeds, dried shrimp and red pepper flakes. Using your hand, toss gently.

In another bowl, mix soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce. Add soy sauce mixture and onions to the tuna and toss gently.

Servings » 8

Source » Butch and Becky Porter