Each year tuna migrate up the California Coast, following warm water currents from Mexico to Japan. These currents are unpredictable, so that each year a different set of species is found offshore. Some summers, anglers only see one species all season; maybe albacore or yellowfin. But every now and then the conditions are just right, so that a whole mixed bag of fish moves through. This summer was one of those times and it was a banner year for offshore fishing in San Diego. In a single day, anglers had the opportunity to target bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna, yellowtail, and dorado (Mahi Mahi). Catching all 5 in one day comprises the “Grand Slam” of San Diego offshore fishing.
This season was particularly good to me. I began with the hope that I might catch a bluefin tuna or a dorado; two exotic species which I had yet to capture. My trip met unhoped-for success as I managed to land 3 bluefin and 3 dorado. I even caught the largest fish of the trip, a 30 lb bluefin, which won me the ‘jackpot’ and paid for my trip. It was incredible!
After a trip I always break down the fish the next day, after some much needed rest. I portion out what I can eat fresh, what I want to give to family and friends, what will go to the smoker, and what will be vacuum sealed and frozen for later. As I go I save all the delicious, but too small for a single portion, pieces in a separate bag. These trimmings are fun to play with. In the past I have marinated them in teriyaki and made kebabs with cherry tomatoes, quartered onions, and mushrooms. I have poached them in olive oil and served them over pasta with marinara. Both are delicious options, but this year I had my mine set on Poke; the Hawaiian sushi-salad preparation rich with garlic, ginger, and sesame.
As it happened, we ate fresh, seared bluefin for 3-4 days before I even got back to the trimmings. When I did, I felt they had maybe gone just past the point where I wanted to eat them raw. When the fish gets that rainbow pattern, kinda like an oil slick, it should be cooked. So what to do? I had my heart set on Poke. I had all the fixings. I just didn’t have any fish up to the task. Then inspiration struck: Poke Burgers!
Poke Burgers with Soy-Lime Glaze (makes 10-12 patties)
2 lbs yellowfin or bluefin tuna, coarsely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 cups panko bread crumbs
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped ginger
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet yellow onion
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup soy sauce
for the glaze
mix equal parts soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and lime marmalade (orange marmalade would work too)
Start by breaking down the fish in a food processor. (If you don’t have one, just chop the crap out of the fish like Morimoto on Iron Chef). You are looking for smallish pieces, but not a paste. A few 10 second pulses in the food processor should get you there. Then transfer to a large bowl and add the garlic, onion, ginger, oil, eggs, and soy sauce. Mix together well. Finally mix in the sesame seeds and 1 cup panko.
Mix well and then judge the consistency. You are looking for a coarse, somewhat dry but sticky mixture; you don’t want this baby falling apart. I had to add the second cup of panko to get the texture right. Form into patties and you’re good to go.
My first batch I grilled, brushing the top with my lime marmalade glaze after I flipped it. My second batch I simply pan fried in some coconut oil. The texture is great, almost meaty when cooked. The flavors are intense and varied, a burst of ginger here, a flush of garlic there. Serve on a bun of your choice with a healthy dose of mayo and some crisp greens.