Hunger Management

Make a raw fish salad or poisson cru, for a taste of Tahiti

Transport yourself to the French Polynesian island with its signature dish of poisson cru, or raw fish salad

The overcast skies, the half-hearted drizzles at about 8pm every night and the general blah-ness of the weather have me longing for an exotic holiday.

Or perhaps I am climbing the walls because the last time I took a break was in April. Trust me when I say that was no holiday.

So when I read a New York Times story about one Nick Sakagami of Los Angeles, the only person outside Japan to earn the title of fish master, I start dreaming of beaches, palm trees and startlingly blue skies. Non-stop cocktails with paper umbrellas in them too.

And, of course, food.

Mr Sakagami said in the story that Tahiti is one of the best places to visit for tuna and mentioned a dish of raw tuna "cooked" with lime juice and dressed with coconut milk. It is called poisson cru (raw fish in French) and is as common in Tahiti as poke is in Hawaii.

The idea of creamy coconut cream with raw maguro sounds so good that I rouse myself from deep inertia to riff on that dish and create something that would get me out of this funk.

Many people will read the recipe and scream "culture appropriation" and, yes, I admit that is what I am doing.

I have never been to the French Polynesian island (although I should, after reading the travelogue on Pages C10 and 11) or eaten the dish, but I have never been a politically correct eater or cook and I make no apologies.

Some ideas sound good on paper, but are insipid in real life.

The combination of coconut cream and raw tuna, however, rocks in every way. The coconut works some kind of magic on the fish, making it velvety and such a pleasure to bite into.

Poisson cru starts off like ceviche as the raw fish is "cooked" by the acid in lime juice. Some recipes call for the fish to sit in the juice for up to two hours, which toughens the fish and dries it out. Why anyone would want to do this to sashimi-grade maguro is beyond me. I find 15 minutes in the fridge just right.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are usually added to the salad. I am going with tomatoes, bell peppers and sliced green chillies because a touch of heat adds to the allure. I zest the limes before juicing them and add the aromatic citrus peel to the salad.

Another non-standard addition is fish sauce. It is full of umami and elevates the dish in a subtle way. Of course, you can use salt instead.

What is non-negotiable is fresh coconut cream.

I know these days, it is sometimes difficult to find a wet market that sells freshly grated coconut, but try. For the salad, you want coconut cream, which you get from squeezing grated coconut.

After I have wrung out every last drop, I toast some of the spent coconut with salt in a non-stick pan and it adds crunch to the salad.

On a whim, I ask the grated coconut seller at the market if I can buy half a coconut. It becomes a bowl for my salad.

I bite into a cube of tuna. The funk disappears like magic.

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RAW FISH SALAD

INGREDIENTS

200g freshly grated coconut
½ tsp salt
400g sashimi- grade tuna (left)
3 large limes, about 250g
1 small yellow bell pepper, 150g to 180g
200g grape or cherry tomatoes
1 or 2 large green chillies
6 to 8 sprigs coriander
2 tsp fish sauce or to taste

METHOD

1. Place the grated coconut in a muslin bag and squeeze. You should have about 100ml of coconut cream. Pour it into a small cup, cover and refrigerate.

2. Scoop 4 Tbs of the grated coconut into a non-stick frying pan set over low heat. Add the salt and dry-fry the coconut until it turns golden brown. Set aside to cool. Add water to the remaining grated coconut and squeeze to get coconut milk for another dish, or discard the coconut.

3. Cut the tuna into 2cm cubes and place in a glass or ceramic bowl. Zest the limes and place the zest in another large glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Squeeze the limes over the fish and mix well with a spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, dice the yellow pepper into 1cm pieces and place in the large mixing bowl with the lime zest. Halve the tomatoes,slice the green chillies, roughly chop the coriander and add to the bowl. Mix well with a spoon.

5. When the fish is done soaking, remove from the refrigerator and drain. Add the fish to the mixing bowl. Remove the coconut cream from the fridge, add the fish sauce and stir to mix. Pour the coconut cream over the fish and vegetables, mix well with a spoon. Refrigerate another 10 to 15 minutes for the flavours to meld.

6. Have a taste and add more fish sauce if needed. Add half the toasted coconut to the salad and mix well.

7. Spoon the salad into a serving bowl and sprinkle on the remaining toasted coconut. Serve immediately.

Serves four

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'A taste of Tahiti'. Print Edition | Subscribe