Ceviche makes an excellent warm weather appetizer or light lunch with crisp flavors that explode on the tongue. Even better, It can be made in minutes.
Ceviche is particularly associated with Ecuador and Peru but has spread throughout Latin America and is gaining in popularity in North America.
The method for making ceviche is remarkably simple, and can pretty much be summed up by saying, “Combine all ingredients in a bowl and marinate for X minutes.” For the most part, the only differences between one ceviche and another are ingredients and marination time.
The main ingredients in ceviche are fish, enough citrus juice to marinate, and a small number of flavoring ingredients, such as onion and chili peppers. But virtually anything fresh can work: cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, avocado, cilantro or other herbs, fresh fruit — the combinations are endless. The liquid component, along with one or more citrus juice, can also include fish stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, olive oil and more. Any kind of fish can be used; the one thing to remember is that though regular fish are added to the marinade raw, shellfish typically are cooked briefly first.
Marination times differ and can be as little as the time it takes to toss the ingredients together and get the dish to the table or as much as several hours. It’s important to understand what’s happening during the marination process, and why we say the fish is “cooked” by the acid.
Fish is made up primarily of proteins, which are balled-up chains of molecules floating in water. When these chains are exposed to heat or acid, they unwind into long strands. When these strands touch, they link up, forming a net. The higher the heat, or the longer the exposure to acid, the tighter the net gets, ultimately squeezing out the water. That’s one reason that overcooked fish or meat can be dry and tough.
Another consequence of these protein nets forming is that they reflect light, turning translucent proteins opaque. (Think what happens to a clear liquid egg white as it cooks: It turns white.) Translucent raw fish, when exposed to acid, turns opaque from the outside in. As the time in the acid increases, the opacity extends inward. Thus, ceviche that is marinated only briefly will be mostly raw, closer to Japanese sashimi. Ceviche that is marinated for several hours will appear cooked all the way through.
One last thing before we get to a recipe: Make sure your fish is super fresh, from a source you trust. (Same thing for your other ingredients: Squeeze the juice fresh from the fruit and use fresh tomatoes, garlic or onion.) Also, make sure your kitchen is clean and you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.
But enough with the why. For the how, we’ll give a recipe for a simple, basic ceviche. For a more thorough discussion of the topic, we recommend “The Great Ceviche Book,” by nuevo Latino chef Douglas Rodriguez.
Prep: 15 minutes
Marinate: 1 hour
Makes: 8 servings
1 pound firm fish like tilapia, salmon, cod or other very fresh fish, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced, or hot sauce to taste
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 avocado, cut into 3/4-inch dice, optional
1 ripe tomato, cut into 3/4-inch dice, optional
Combine all ingredients in a nonreactive bowl; marinate 1 hour in refrigerator. Serve with saltine crackers or tortilla chips.
Per serving: 55 calories, 7% of calories from fat, 0.4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 177 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
For more information about the gastronomy of Ecuador visit: www.visitecuador.com.ec