Ceviche is Latin America’s answer to sushi. Like sushi, the star ingredient in ceviche is fruto del mar (fruit of the sea) accompanied by the freshest, simplest ingredients. The difference is that with ceviche—fresh fish marinated in tangy lime juice, crunchy salt, spicy chiles, and finished with a sprinkling of herbs and onion—the ingredients are “cooked” in the acidic citrus juice and finished with a variety of garnishes from fresh corn on the cob to cooked cubed sweet potatoes.
Increasingly visible on the coasts, cevicherias, with menus devoted exclusively to citrus-marinated seafood, showcase the incredible array of flavors, colors and textures of this fresh, healthy dish. “I call ceviche the perfect food, because it’s high in protein, low in fat, light and fresh,” says Chef Douglas Rodriguez, an internationally acclaimed restaurateur and author of The Great Ceviche Book ( Ten Speed Press, 2010).
Ceviche (also spelled cebiche and seviche, and commonly pronounced say-VEE-chay) originated in Peru, possibly as a way to preserve fresh fish before refrigeration. Because the basic ingredients are so simple, ceviche is a great appetizer to toss together at home on a warm summer evening. In South America, ceviche is traditionally a lunchtime food, but stateside is served as a dinnertime appetizer or even a full meal, which Rodriguez encourages: “If you’re going to buy the ingredients, get different things to make three or four ceviches for a tasting platter,” he advises.
The most basic rendition of ceviche is fresh fish (sea bass, corvina, tuna, salmon, halibut and grouper are good choices) or seafood (try shrimp, scallops, oysters and mussels), combined with a citrus juice base, traditionally lime juice because it’s the most acidic of the citruses and will “cook” the fish faster, and balancing ingredients like salt, herbs, ginger and chiles. Variations abound, from a tomato-based sauce to a tropical addition of coconut milk and avocado.
Finding fresh seafood can be a challenge if you don’t live near the coast. Michelle Bernstein, a Miami chef/restaurateur, advises using your nose to seek out the freshest seafood. “Go to someone you trust, and ask if you can smell the fish. You want to smell the ocean. If it smells fishy or like chemicals, don’t buy it,” she says. “Most importantly, try to get the most local fish for wherever you are in the world. Ask your fishmonger for a recommendation.”
Rodriguez recommends frozen fish and seafood if you’re not close to the water, since it’s often frozen right on the boat and is fresher than “fresh” fish and easier to slice. Look for a dry-pack of frozen seafood rather than one preserved in water, which contains chemicals. Both Rodriguez and Bernstein tend to blanch seafood like shrimp and squid before tossing into a ceviche. “Seafood protein is a lot denser than fish protein, so a quick blanch in salt water will take away the raw outside edge and give it great texture,” Bernstein says.
Buy fresh seafood the day you make ceviche, and keep both the fish and the finished dish ice-cold. Show off the bright colors of ceviche with individual servings in martini or shot glasses, or go family-style with a big rimmed platter or bowl on the table. Garnishes like popcorn, corn nuts, sweet potatoes and fresh sweet corn help cleanse the palate and add richness to a lean, tangy ceviche.
Ceviche pairs well with a wide range of beverages. For Rodriguez, the classic match is beer—the darker, the better, he says. “A rich, creamy dark stout or bock strips the heat and acid of the ceviche right off the palate.” Pisco Sour, a Peruvian cocktail made with pisco, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white is another ceviche staple; the creamy egg white balances out the acidic ceviche and its lemon juice matches ceviche’s tang.
For wine, a high-acid white like Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Vetliner or sparkling wine complements the citrus and fresh fish flavors. Whatever you drink, make sure it’s oak-free and low in alcohol, Rodriguez says. “A heavy, oaked Chardonnay would taste like a piece of burning wood in your mouth. You can’t go wrong with a refreshing white wine made in stainless steel.”
These basic proportions from Chef Michelle Bernstein will help you get started on the road to ceviche nirvana. Use this recipe as a base, and feel free to experiment. For example, if you want a sweeter marinade, add the orange and lemon juices.
4 cups (about 2 pounds) fish
1 1⁄2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 1⁄2 tablespoons peeled minced ginger
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1⁄2 serrano pepper, finely chopped
Juice of 4 limes (or 4 limes,
2 lemons, and 1 orange)
1⁄4 red onion, julienned
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Fresh popped popcorn, corn nuts and/or roasted cubed sweet potatoes, for garnish.
Thinly slice fish and mix with salt, ginger, celery and chiles. Refrigerate about 30 minutes. Add juice, red onion and cilantro. Marinate to taste (light fish and seafood need less time than heavy, oily fish and seafood). Serve with some of the juice and garnishes.
Four-Citrus Sea Scallops with Cucumber
Sea scallops, or conchitas, cook quickly. The combination of four citrus juices has a lower acidity than lime alone and will actually slow down the “cooking” process. The Valencia orange and grapefruit also add a pleasant sweetness.
1 1⁄2 pounds large sea scallops
Juice of 6 limes
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pink grapefruit
Juice of 1 pink grapefruit
Juice of 1 Valencia orange
Juice of 5 lemons
1 cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly
sliced into half-moons
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
Set the scallops in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for about 1 hour, until very firm, but not frozen solid. Slice scallops crosswise into very thin rounds. In a nonreactive bowl, toss sliced scallops in the lime juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Peel the grapefruit by slicing off the top and bottom, setting it upright on a flat surface, and using a sharp knife to cut away the peel, white pith and exterior membrane. Cut from top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit; don’t cut too deeply into the flesh of the grapefruit. Holding the grapefruit in one hand, run a knife along one of the interior membranes toward the center of the fruit. Do this again along the neighboring membrane to remove each grapefruit section. Repeat until all sections are removed. Roughly chop the grapefruit sections and reserve. Before serving, drain the scallops, discarding the lime juice. In a clean nonreactive bowl, blend the grapefruit, orange and lemon juices and gently fold in the reserved grapefruit sections, the remaining ingredients, and the scallops. Serves 6.
Wine recommendation: With its light, bright, herbal flavors, this ceviche calls for a minerally, acidic white. The 2009 Penalolen Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Casablanca Valley evokes flavors of the sea; a floral Pinot Gris like the 2008 King Estate highlights the slight sweetness of the citrus juices and scallops.
This tomato-based ceviche, very similar to a shrimp cocktail, was inspired by a trip to Ecuador and is one of Rodriguez’s favorites.
For the Sauce:
1 large tomato, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 jalapeños, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
1⁄2 onion, roasted, peeled and chopped
3⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1⁄2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1⁄4 cup canned tomato juice
1 tablespoon sugar
3 shots Tabasco sauce, or to taste
Pinch of salt
For the Ceviche
1 pound extra-large shrimp (16 to 20), blanched
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1⁄2 cup freshly popped plain, unsalted popcorn for garnish
1⁄2 cup unsalted corn nuts for garnish
Roast the tomato, jalapeños, bell pepper, and onion over an open barbecue flame or a gas burner by holding with tongs and turning occasionally until skins are blistered and blackened. Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap; let steam 10–15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins. Peel, seed and chop ingredients.
Purée with juices, sugar and Tabasco in blender until smooth. Just before serving, in a nonreactive bowl, toss the shrimp with the sauce, red onion, chives, green onions and cilantro. Garnish with popcorn and corn nuts. Serves 4.
Wine recommendation: Rosé is a classic match with a tomato-based dish; the 2008 Banfi Vintners Centine Rosé, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, emphasizes the sweet, fruity tomatoes. A brut Champagne like Nicholas Feuillatte NV is refreshingly acidic with light, yeasty undertones that complement the slightly smoky flavor of the sauce.
Sea scallop and shrimp recipes reprinted with permission from The Great Ceviche. Book by Douglas Rodriguez, copyright © 2003, 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.