Bites & Pieces: ¡Ceviche!

Raw fish is eaten round the world. Sushi and sashimi from Japan, crudo and carpaccio from Italy, and Gravlax from Scandanavia to name a few. Hawaii has contributed poke, a kind of tuna tartare. I was first introduced to it at the Yardhouse in San Diego. The best I’ve ever had was at the East Coast Grill and Raw Bar. A friend of the owner had caught a tuna off Cape Cod the day before and so they were featuring it that night. Then there are the raw oysters that I happily slurp at Clyde’s for happy hour. Anything from Prince Edward Island is worth a taste.

Latin America’s contribution to the world of raw fish is ceviche. I was introduced to ceviche during my first visit to Costa Rica. My then girlfriend had never had a serious boyfriend before, so much of her family was curious about the gringo coming down for her brother’s wedding. My Spanish was minimal back then and I remember being reduced to saying ¡me encanta Costa Rica! as folks chatted with me at the end of the reception. All in all, a good trip. We were married one year later to the day.

Ceviche is distinct from sashimi, carpaccio or tartare in that the fish or shellfish is “cooked” in lime juice. Citric acid alters the chemical and physical properties of the proteins in the fish. This process of denaturation turns the flesh firm and opaque, as if it had been cooked with heat. One still needs to use high quality fish as the marinade is not the same as cooking. Then again, if I’m having a medium rare steak, it should be high quality meat.

For this post, my starter material is a book on ceviche from Guillermo Pernot. He had a great restaurant in Philadelphia (since closed) and is now with the group behind Cuba Libre. That’s a rum and coke with some lime juice.

Let’s start with basic ceviche. First, create the marinade. Half a cup of fresh lime juice, a quarter cup of orange juice, and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Fresh is key here, so juice them yourself. Next, cut up about a pound of fish into roughly quarter inch dice. Mahi mahi and red snapper are great choices. Tilapia is fine, if a bit bland. Let the fish marinate an hour or so and then add diced tomato, some minced onion or shallots, some minced cilanto, and some minced chiles (bell, jalapeño or Serrano peppers, depending upon your heat tolerance). If there’s something you think goes with this, enjoy! Serve with tortilla chips. Costa Ricans like to have a mix of ketchup and mayo on the side. I call it salsa tica and it’s good.

Shellfish is also good for making ceviche. If you’re worried about raw fish, parboil some prawns and cut them into small pieces. Shrimp cocktail from the South! Scallops make fantastic ceviche. Just toss whole bay scallops or sliced sea scallops into the marinade and let them sit for about 15 minutes.

Those are the basics. Now let’s get a bit fancy. I mentioned the Pernot book, which I should note is a gift of Natasha Bonilla, a family friend. The recipes are restaurant complicated, but I’ve tried a few at home and they rock. They’re also doable for the home cook. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hamachi Ceviche with Trio of Peppers Salad

This one looks great. There’s a fair amount of chopping involved, but it’s worth it. It’s terrific with an unoaked Chardonney. Heck, live a little and pick up a bottle of white Burgundy.

Citrus Dressing

½ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup fresh lime juice

½ cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons oil, infused with garlic*

2 tablespoons annatto oil*

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a blender until emulsified and set aside.

*I take whole cloves of garlic, mash them slightly with the edge of a knife, and put on the stove over low heat. Let it go for about 15 minutes and then strain. Annato seeds are used to color oil. Traditionally, it’s made the same way that I make the garlic oil. Put the seeds in oil and heat up until colored. For this recipe, I can simply do everything in one batch. You can also find annatto seed powder, which simplifies the whole process. If all this seems a bit too much bother, use a flavored oil or neutral salad oil.

Assembling the ceviche

¾ pound skinless hamachi, sliced thinly (yellow fin tuna)

1 large, evenly shaped red bell pepper

1 large, evenly shaped yellow bell pepper

1 large poblano chile

1 cup of arugula sprouts or thinly sliced arugula

½ red onion, sliced very thin and rinsed under cold water

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the sliced fish with half the citrus dressing. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Slice the top and bottom from the bell peppers. Cut open along one side and remove the seeds and the white membrane. [Pernot instructs one to remove the top layer of watery flesh from the inside as well, but I’d say that’s optional.] Slice each pepper into very thin strips—a mandoline is very helpful here. Do the same for the poblano chile.

Toss the peppers with the remaining citrus dressing. Lightly toss the fish, pepper mixture, arugula and red onion. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Arrange onto 6 chilled salad plates. [Oh, did I forget to mention that you were supposed to serve on chilled plates? Sorry about that.]

Bay Scallop Seviche with Blackened Tomatillo Truffle Sauce

This one will bring the house down. The ingredients are widely available and it is great for a crowd. Truffle oil is pricey, but a little goes a long ways. Trader Joe’s used to carry truffle oil, but no longer. I find it at World Market. Wine stores often carry some. For this dish, I think black truffle oil makes the most sense.

Let’s start with the plantain chips. You can buy them and they’re quite acceptable. Fresh is best, though. For this, you need green plantains. Cut off the ends, remove the skin and slice into planks. The best way I’ve found is to use a cheese slicer. It makes even plantain slices. Heat up a half inch or so of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or cast iron pan. Fry the slides and set them on paper towels to drain. Toss with a bit of salt.

Blackened Tomatillo Truffle Sauce

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed

½ pound ripe plum tomatoes

1 red onion, quartered and unpeeled

4 cachucha* chiles

1 jalapeño chile

1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves

3 tablespoons truffle oil

salt & pepper to taste

There are two ways to cook the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and chiles. Pernot does it on the stove top. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over med high and add the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and chiles. Cook, tossing frequently, until the skins are blackened. I like to toss them all with the olive oil and use our toaster oven. I preheat it to 350, put the veggies on a tray, and then move it to broil until the skins blacken (about 10 minutes).

Once cooked, put them in a food processor and cool to room temperature. Add the cilantro and pulse briefly until the vegetables are chopped but still chunky. You can also put everything through a meat grinder. Finally, add the remaining ingredients, taste to check seasoning, and refrigerate.

*I don’t know where to get these either. It’s a native Cuban pepper that looks like a habañero, but has much less heat. I’m fond of Serrano peppers, so I just use 4 of them and skip the jalapeño. If you prefer to keep heat levels down, just use jalapeños.

Bay Scallop Ceviche

1 cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons finely diced red onion (or a lg. shallot)

1 tablespoon kosher (or sea) sallt

1 pound fresh bay scallops

Combine everything but the scallops in a nonreactive (stainless steel or enameled) bowl. Add the scallops and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerator for 24 hours.

Drain the marinade from the scallops and discard. Combine the scallops with most of the sauce and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. When ready to serve, drain the excess liquid and add the rest of the sauce. A great way to serve this is to put the ceviche onto spoons and top with some crumbled plantain chips. Serve accompanied with plantain chips.

Tuna Ceviche with Roasted Calabaza

This is a three level ceviche. The base is roasted calabaza, a squash. You can use butternut squash for this and do well. On top of the squash is a layer of tuna. You’ll want high quality stuff for this. When I can get bluefin tuna, this is what I make. Thie dish is topped with a peppercress salad (watercress works just fine).

OK. For the base. Have one pound of calabaza (or butternut squash), peeled and cut into half inch cubes. Seasons with salt and p\epper and toss with olive oil. Roast in an oven at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, shakng and tossing once or twice, until it’s browned and crusty on the outside. Remove from the oven, cover and chill.

Now the salad. Combine half a pound of peppercress (or watercress) leaves with a quarter cup each of lemon and lime juice, a tablespoon of pumpkin seed oil (you can find it at World Market), and some salt and pepper. I’d use a high quality nut oil as the first alternative and good EVOO as the second.

Last, the good stuff. Make an emulsion of a quarter cup each of olive oil, lemon juice, and lime juice, 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil (or nut oil or more olive oil,. Reserve a quarter cup of this. To the rest, add a pound of diced, sushi grade ahi tuna. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I go light on salt and a bit heavy on pepper. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of pepitas, which can be found in Latin American markets.

Let’s put it all together. It helps to have a ring mold to do this. Make a half inch thick base of roasted squash, Put on top of this another half inch of the marinated tuna. Top with the salald and a bit of reserved emulsion.

It’s a fantastic fall dish.

10 Responses

  1. Ceviche has become one of my favorite appetizers but I wouldn’t dare make it at home. I want the food poisoning liability on someone else.

    Someone I know was saying that US limes aren’t really acidic enough to do it well and that limes from Central America are better.


  2. I’m one of those weirdos who can’t eat raw fish although I might try the cooked shrimp. I do eat at least a little seafood. The recipes sound wonderful though.

    One day when you have time will you post your mac and cheese recipe(s). I’m ready for some comfort food and need to gain a few pounds…………………thanks


  3. I’ve made gravlaxx at home, but haven’t (yet) attempted ceviche.

    I’d heard the same thing about the limes, yello, and I’m wondering if you could spike the marinade with a tiny bit of pure ascorbic acid (of course, being in a lab, I can get my hands on the ultra pure stuff–I don’t know if I’d try it with any of the aa supplements that are available on the market or not due to fillers).


  4. I order my sushi grade fish from Catalina Offshore Products. [They also sell other stuff.] I trust their quality more than most restaurants. The book has a few recipes for cooked ceviches. I’ll take a look for one or two promising ones and update the post.

    I haven’t had trouble with the acidity of limes that I use. I think the ones I get around here hail from sunny Mexico. If you want more acidity, I suggest using key limes.

    Imsica – consider mac and cheese in the queue.



  5. Costa Ricans like to have a mix of ketchup and mayo on the side. I call it salsa tica and it’s good.

    Utahns call it fry sauce, right Michi?

    Lemon juice in place of OJ for me — and I like to add diced avocado to the ceviche. A firmer avocado is better than a riper one, in this case.


  6. Utahns call it fry sauce, right Michi?

    Yep! And maybe it tastes different in Costa Rica, but the stuff here is overly sweet and gooey. Ick!

    Paul–when you do the mac and cheese post let me know and I’ve got a couple of recipes to add to it if that’s OK.


  7. Sounds like our approach of using plain yogurt in place of the mayo tarts it up nicely.

    Interesting that you mention diced avocado, Mike. That’s a crucial ingredient in my poke.



  8. FB,

    Mmm. Poke. What fish do you use? I like tuna with soy, sesame oil, ginger, a few hot peppers. We use seaweed for texture instead of avocado, but I’ll have to give that a try.

    And I’m an idiot — of course you’d know about fry sauce too.


    • My poke (po-kay for those who don’t know it) is similar. I typically use yellowfin or yellowtail for the fish, though once made it using king salmon. I use a bit of sriracha sauce instead of hot peppers. I also add some rehydrated seaweed and sesame seeds for flavor and texture.

      I tried combining avocado with yellowfin when seeing that combination used in tuna tartare. It adds a bit of richness.



  9. By the way, you’re not an idiot. I’d never heard of fry sauce. Then again, I was in Utah for only two years and spent my spare time at Red Rocks (a brew pub), the Salt Lake City Roasting Company (coffee house), and playing Magic: The Gathering at a comic book shop.



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