Building a Poke Bowl in 4 Easy Steps

Poke (pronounced p-okay, which rhymes with okay) bowls are the lazy person’s sushi. Honestly that’s the reason I decided to try making them at home! (Oh, and I live in Okinawa, Japan, where we’ve been restricted from eating at restaurants off base for months due to the pandemic…) But this is delicious, easy, real food at its best. There really are only 4 easy steps to building a poke bowl! What are you waiting for?

Poke Bowl with chopsticks filled with raw salmon and tuna, sliced cucumbers, chopped pineapple, edamame, sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced nori

We love poke bowls so much we have eaten them once a week for months. And no one is complaining–that says a lot!

To be honest, it’s almost like not cooking at all when the fish is uncooked and the rice cooks itself! Plus it’s much less expensive than buying them made. But have no fear, you don’t even have to live in Japan or have a rice cooker to master building a poke bowl in the comfort of your home.

This is a complete, beginner’s guide to building a poke bowl. So, don’t be intimidated by the detailed steps. It may take you longer to read this than to prepare them! If you can use a knife, you can make a poke bowl.

Step 1: Prepare the Rice

Selecting the Rice

Short-grain rice is typically used in sushi. It has a chewier, stickier texture, which is perfect for rolled sushi. Medium-grain rice is also plenty sticky for sushi or poke bowls. I like using sushi rice for poke bowls because I like the texture, plus the stickiness makes eating with chopsticks easier.

Fun fact: did you know most of the rice sold in Japan is sushi rice? Makes sense, since sushi is a staple! (And I especially love that it’s hard to go wrong when you can’t read Japanese.) In the US, Nishiki is a brand of medium-grain rice that is grown in California and is easy to find.

Of course, before we go any further, you may be thinking “white rice isn’t real food”! Well, it’s definitely been processed, which removes the fiber and means it’s no longer a whole grain. However, it is a staple food of Japan, where rates of life expectancy and chronic disease have historically been more favorable than in the US. So, since I avoid many other processed foods, I choose to eat white sushi rice at times because it is a traditional plant-based Japanese food and I live in Japan. But even if you don’t live in Japan–if you eat reasonable portion sizes and take care to limit other more processed foods, it can fit into your lifestyle as well.

Of course, you could use other grains (for example, whole grain brown rice or quinoa) in your poke bowls if desired, since it is going in a bowl and doesn’t need to be sticky. Also, if you want a lower-carb option, you can use a smaller portion of cooked rice and mix it with cooked, “riced” cauliflower.

Cooking the Rice

Cook sushi rice according to your rice cooker’s directions, if you have one. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can easily make sushi rice on a stovetop or try making sushi rice in an Instant pot.

I usually use 1.5 cups of dry rice for 6 to 8 poke bowls. Per bowl, that’s 135-180 calories and 30-40 grams of carbohydrate from the rice, depending on whether you get 6 or 8 servings from it. In my rice cooker, that’s 2 scoops with the cup that came with it. (The measuring “cup” that comes with most rice cookers is usually only 3/4 cup or 180 mL.)

As for leftovers, we often have 2 or 3 poke bowls left for lunch the next day. If you do, store the rice and fish separately in the fridge, since you’ll want to warm the rice up a bit (and then let cool slightly before combining with the fish and other toppings).

Seasoning the Rice

After the rice is cooked, add 2 tablespoons of sushi vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar for every 3/4 cup (180 mL) of uncooked sushi rice. This is what I was taught when I took a sushi making class in Okinawa last year. I have noticed some recipes online suggest much more seasoning, but I think this authentic amount adds just the right flavor without overpowering the whole bowl.

Step 2: Prepare the Fish

Selecting the Fish

In Okinawa, I usually buy tuna and salmon sashimi to use in poke bowls. Salmon is my favorite type of sushi–is it just me, or does it taste smooth like butter?! But in the States, it’s probably easiest to find sashimi-grade tuna.

It’s very important to buy sashimi grade to be sure the fish was handled properly before eating it raw.

For 6 to 8 poke bowls, I usually buy a little over a pound of fish (or about 500 grams, as it’s sold in Japan). That’s about 2 to 3 ounces of fish per poke bowl. If you prefer, you can add more fish to increase the protein, or simply add some shelled edamame for a lower cost, plant-based protein.

If you’re having trouble finding sashimi-grade fish in your area, or maybe you’re not a fan of raw fish, you could substitute cooked shrimp or baked tofu.

Preparing the Fish

There is a proper way to slice fish for sashimi and sushi; there are special knives, special techniques (against the grain is best). And if you’re interested here’s a video on how to slice tuna.

Sushi ingredients including sliced salmon, sliced tuna, chopped mango, sliced cucumbers and chopped avocado

However, I am not a sushi chef! And the beauty of poke bowls is, nobody cares…

So, as long as the fish is cut with a sharp knife, in small, tender bite-size pieces, you’re good to go!

Step 3: Prepare the Sauces

You might prefer either the spicy sauce or the yum yum sauce, but we like to use a little of each sauce for the perfect poke bowl!

Combine the fish with the spicy sauce before building a poke bowl. Then reserve the yum yum sauce for the top of the assembled poke bowl. You can buy store-bought yum yum sauce in a bottle, but this one is so easy, has incredible flavor, and you know exactly what’s in it.

Spicy Sauce

  • About 1 pound of fish, sliced (or 500 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of Sriracha, or to taste

Yum Yum Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1.5 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Splenda Naturals (Stevia sweetener)
  • Sriracha to taste

Step 4: Prepare the Toppings

You can choose any toppings you like. But I usually consider sliced cucumbers, pineapple or mango, avocado, and sesame seeds mandatory.

  • Cucumbers, sliced thin
  • Avocado, chopped
  • Pineapple or mango, diced
  • White and/or black sesame seeds
  • Furikake seaweed seasoning or thin strips of nori (seaweed), or crumble some roasted snacking seaweed on top if that’s all you have
  • Store-bought seaweed salad (optional)
  • Edamame, cooked and shelled (optional)

The Best Part…

Poke Bowl with raw salmon and tuna, sliced cucumbers, chopped mango, sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced nori

Everyone can assemble their poke bowls individually and your work here is done! Please let me know by leaving a comment if you try and love these as much as we do!