In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Ceviche

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Aug 8, 2012 1:58 AM

Ceviche, cebiche, or even sebiche, can send people running for the door.  Not fair, I say!  We’ve come to terms with sushi, so its time ceviche gets its due.  In fact, for every person who claims it’s the idea of eating raw fish that scares them off from a platter of citrus cured oceanic goodness, I say pay heed.  What I’m about to tell you should whet your appetite at least enough to want to try one bite.  If you’re lucky enough to be in the hands of a capable cook, you’re destined to be a fan forever.

Classic Ceviche
Cooked Ceviche (for those who can’t, just can’t, do it!)

Ceviche (pron. seh-Bee-chay) is a traditional South American dish of raw fish or other seafood tossed with citrus juice and fresh herbs and vegetables such as hot chiles, tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro.  The dish has a long history, but its origins are disputed.  To rely on our modern classic interpretation of the dish would suggest that ceviche came to us from the Spanish (who introduced limes to the Americas).  Still, Ecuadorians and Peruvians claim that the juice of the passion fruit was the original curing liquid.  Regardless of its origin, the premise for making ceviche remains the same:  fresh fish is cured in a highly seasoned and spiced acidic liquid.

Conventional wisdom, or urban legend, will have you believe that the citric acid in the citrus curing liquid “cooks” the raw fish.  While the citric acid does alter the protein structure of the fish it does not “cook” the fish per se.  Instead, the protein becomes more opaque and firm, but the acid does not kill bacteria and parasites as heat may.  That is why ceviche, like sushi, depends on the freshest and highest grade (read cleanest) seafood possible.

Because you start with fresh fish and a tart curing liquid, ceviche is typically offered as a light meal eaten at lunch or as an appetizer to start a meal.  Traditional South American ceviche restaurants called cevicherias often close mid-afternoon since the morning’s catch is no longer fresh by the afternoon.  While each ceviche starts with the freshest fish possible – usually sea bass or flounder – there are as many variations on the remaining ingredients as there are countries and cultures in South America.  In Ecuador, ceviche is usually made with shrimp and served with corn nuts, that aren’t like the corn nuts we are familiar with in our stores.  Instead, they are extremely large corn kernels that when cooked, do not pop and fluff.  Instead, the kernel gets puffy and the interior gets soft. 

In Peru, ceviche is garnished with thin-sliced onions and chili peppers, then served with sweet potatoes and large kernel corn grown in the mountainous Andes, called choclo.  Chileans turn their named sea bass into ceviche buy using tart grapefruit juice with the lime juice and seasoning the curing liquid with mint and cilantro.

Whichever culture inspires your recipe for ceviche, there is one thing each ceviche has in common, and that is its byproduct “tigers milk,” or the leftover ceviche marinade.  Colored brightly from the chile peppers and the seasonings, the marinade is often mixed with vodka and presented to diners with their ceviche. 

As ceviche becomes more mainstream it’s not unusual to see chefs bring regional ingredients into their own recipes.  In Central America and the tropics you can find such things as passion fruit and coconut milk added.  In coastal states you can find ceviche combined with everything from avocado to celery and more.

For home cooks, ceviche can be an easy, make-ahead summer supper that offers almost endless possibilities for change. The key to a good ceviche, of course, is top-quality fish and seafood. Buy sushi-grade fish whenever possible, and for extra security, allow the fish to cure in lime juice or other citrus juice at least 8 hours or overnight before serving. Add your other chilled, chopped ingredients -- tomato, onion, avocado, jicama, watermelon, cilantro -- just prior to serving for best results.

Classic Ceviche
Serves 8 as an Appetizer

Ceviche is believed to have originated in Peru or Ecuador in Inca times. The seafood was originally marinated in chicha, a fermented corn beverage.  The Spanish introduced citrus to these countries and with their influence the juices of lemons, limes and Seville oranges have become the marinade or cooking liquid.  The traditional essence of the ceviche is retained by using key limes and a garnish of roasted corn and roasted sweet potatoes.  It is made contemporary with the addition of fresh garden vegetables and the fresh herb cilantro.  I drop my lime wedges into raw or turbinado sugar before serving.  I like the elegant note of sweetness it adds to the overall tartness of the dish. 

About 1 pound fresh sea bass or red snapper fillets (or other firm white fresh fish such as shark, mahi-mahi, or sole)
1/4 cup finely chopped red (or sweet) onion
About 1 cup fresh key lime juice (substitute fresh lime juice)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup red bell pepper, small dice
1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, small dice
1 small jalapeño seeded and finely minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges, for garnish

Toasted sweet corn kernels, for garnish (optional)
Roasted sweet potato slices, for garnish (optional)

Make the Ceviche.  Trim the sea bass fillet and cut into small bite size cubes, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch.  Place the fish into a non-reactive mixing bowl.  In a separate mixing bowl combine the chopped onion, lime juice, and salt.  Pour the lime juice mixture over the fish and stir to combine.  Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour to cure.  During this time the seafood will essentially “cook” in the lime juice. 

Remove the cured ceviche from the refrigerator and drain, discarding the lime juice.  Place the ceviche in a clean mixing bowl.  Add the chopped bell peppers and the jalapeño pepper.  Toss to combine.  If not serving immediately, return the mixture to the refrigerator and chill until ready to serve. 

To Serve
Add the chopped cilantro to the ceviche mixture and toss.  Place on a chilled serving plate and dress with toasted sweet corn kernels and roasted sweet potato slices.  Squeeze a bit of fresh lime just before taking to the table.  Garnish with wedges of lime. 

Cooked “Ceviche”
Serves 6 as a starter

This dish uses the classic ceviche combination of refreshing citrus from the orange and lime juice, the heat from jalapeño, a nice crunch from cucumber, and the sweetness from the scallops.  Although it's not a true ceviche, since the scallops are already cooked when you put them in the marinade, the taste is wonderful with the added layer of flavor from the grill.  This is a perfect starter.  The bright and bold marinade gets your appetite read for a delicious main course.   

1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops (about 20) (ask for “dry pack” scallops, which are not held soaking in solution)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 small navel orange
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 medium hot house (also known as seedless) cucumber, peeled and halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced (to yield about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot
2 teaspoons finely chopped, seeded jalapeño pepper (about half of one large jalapeño)
Coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to season
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels.  Place the scallops in a large bowl and add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the salt, and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Place a grill pan over medium high heat and brush with canola oil. 

Grill scallops until just cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate and cool.

Cut the peel and white pith from the orange.  Cut segments free from membranes. Coarsely chop enough segments to measure 1/4 cup and place in a large bowl (reserve remaining orange for another use).  Add lime juice, cucumber, shallot, jalapeño, and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir to combine flavors.  Taste.  Season with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper. 

Cut the scallops in half or into quarters (you should have about 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces).  Add to the cucumber mixture, tossing to combine.  Cover with cling film and marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours. 

To Serve
Remove from refrigerator.  Add cilantro and serve on chilled salad plates.


Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, llc.  All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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