This was a recipe that we were both really looking forward to, and for good reason.
When we first came across it, poisson cru struck us as a rich and vibrant ahi tuna salad with an added twist of coconut milk.
Really… who wouldn’t want to try a recipe mixing tastes of raw (okay, slightly ceviche “cooked”) fish, fresh vegetables and smooth coconut milk?
We were hooked from the start.
Tahiti and its Poisson Cru
Well-known as a luxurious tourist destination and for its beautiful weather, Tahiti is one of the largest and most recognizable islands in French Polynesia, itself a set of 118 separate islands (wow!) closely clustered together in the Pacific Ocean. The French Polynesian islands are considered to be one of the last places on Earth to have become inhabited with humans, with the first settlers coming only a few thousand years ago.
These islands came into contact with European colonists – from the Portuguese to the British to the French – before ultimately being annexed as a French colony in 1880. Today, Tahiti and the rest of these islands are French territories with completely civil and political rights as mainland French citizens, and the official language spoken is recognized as French.
Technically, though, most every dish – poisson cru included – will have both a French and a Tahitian name. Poisson cru, for example, is the French name that translates into English as “raw fish.” The Tahitian name for it, which is the lesser known of the two, is e’ia ota. In Tahitian and neighboring languages like Samoan, ota means “raw” while e’ia is the Tahitian way of saying “fish.”
However you’d like to call it, poisson cru will be as close to a Tahitian national dish as you’ll get. Eating establishments of all shapes and sizes, from the roulettes food carts to the to-go aisles of supermarkets to the fine dining restaurants, will most likely have some version of poisson cru available on their menus.
In researching for this recipe, it was really interesting to see how many offshoot recipes poisson cru, for all its simplicity, can give way to. There’s recipes for poisson cru chinois (with Chinese flavors), poisson cru ananas (with pineapple) and other types of cru recipes with different types of seafood.
About the Recipe
One thing that’s really inspiring about Tahitian cuisine is how each recipe yields such exquisite tastes from ingredients that are readily available and abundant throughout the land. It seems as close to this notion of “sustainable eating” as you’ll get.
Poisson cru is certainly no exception. It is an incredibly simple recipe that highlights the traditional ingredients common to most Tahitian recipes.
At the heart of the recipe is raw fish, hence giving the poisson cru recipe its namesake. Technically, the name suggests that any type of local and raw fish can be used, although most recipes that we came across used raw sushi-grade tuna.
Much in the same way ceviche is prepared in South American countries, the raw fish will “cook” slightly in a marinade of citrus juice and salt. In this type of preparation, there’s no real cooking with heat going on, but the citric acid from the citrus juices triggers the same denaturation processes to the meat’s proteins as heated cooking will do, if even for only a moment.
This type of cooking doesn’t take very long at all, and in fact it’s best that it doesn’t. Depending on the recipe, most anyone will advocate to “cook” your fish between only 10 and 20 minutes maximum, else the citric acid “overcooks” the fish and makes it tough.
Besides the ceviched fish, poisson cru is full of vibrantly colored and flavored vegetables, and then there’s the coconut milk. Once the raw fish and vegetables have been mixed together, you drizzle coconut milk and mix through to give a smooth flavor that beautifully counterbalances the tart flavor that comes from the citrus influence.
Our Take on the Recipe
Given the simplicity of the core poisson cru recipe, there is not all too many changes that we made to our original reference recipe.
When it came to sourcing our fish for this recipe (and we would really caution you to do the same as well), we were extra careful and made extra sure to make sure that we got the right type of quality fish that’s usable for raw consumption. While ceviche-style preparation will give a similar denaturation result to your fish’s proteins, it will not kill bacteria the way that heat cooking will.
For this reason, it’s really of the utmost importance to get fresh, preferably wild caught raw fish. Here in the US, the term sushi-grade usually denotes a reasonable quality, but the best way to be sure is to ask your fishmonger.
For “cooking” our fish, we erred closer on the earlier side of cooking than the later side. This is more a personal preference of ours, but we’d rather prefer having slightly fuller and chewier pieces of fish rather than perhaps “overcooked” and tougher more tart pieces.
One particular tweak we really enjoyed doing to our poisson cru was including some of the “cooking” lime juice into the final dish. Most recipes will drain all or most of the lime juice, but we found that adding back some of the lime juice which our tuna cooked in gave more balance to the taste of our poisson cru.
Other than that, there is not all too much else that we changed to this fantastic poisson cru recipe.
Fresh and mild while zesty and tart all at once, it’s the quintessential Polynesian recipe and a great window into Tahitian cuisine. Bonus points that it’s so incredibly fun and easy to make too!
Have you tried poisson cru, or do you make it at home too? Share your experiences by commenting below!
- 1 pound of sushi-grade tuna, cut into cubes
- Juice of 8 limes
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 tomato (1¾ ounces)
- 1 green bell pepper, cubed
- 1 persian cucumber, peeled and quartered
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1 glass coconut milk
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small knob of ginger
- Salt and pepper
- Place your cubes of tuna into a small bowl, then pour the lime juice over the tuna
- Mix and massage the lime juice into the tuna, sprinkling salt into the tuna as well
- Cover bowl and put in the refrigerator. Let the tuna sit for 8-12 minutes, but not much longer. You don't want the acid to "overcook" the fish
- While the tuna is "cooking," combine the tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, carrot, onion, garlic and ginger into a large serving bowl
- Once the tuna is "cooked" and ready to go, remove from the bowl of lime juice (but keep the bowl around) and add the tuna to your salad bowl
- Drizzle half of the lime juice from your cooking bowl into the salad and mix well
- Finally, add the coconut milk bit by bit, mixing around the salad well