“Ceviche…raw fish cooked in lime juice”
“How can it be cooked if it’s raw? It looks like cold fish salad…no thanks!”
The PR battle for ceviche is a constant one, but one that can be easily one by offering a taste and a little education. I cant help but wonder how difficult the early Sushi entrepreneurs must have had it during those early marketing days in the west. Trying to sell anything other than fruit and veg raw is about as easy as trying to circumcise a gnat without the aid of a microscope (as if that makes it possible…?).
The fear of the unknown is often what puts many people off; perhaps that is why people happily scoff a McDonalds or filthy strands of doner meat…they know what it is even if it does taste like shit. Ceviche (pronounced say-vee-chay) may hold a hint of mystique about it for those not in the know, but once tasted you would be pushed to find someone who would gobble up the rest of the bowl, if you say its better than sushi (which it most certainly is) than that can clinch it pretty quickly, pretty soon you will be selling Veal tartar to a vegan.
The mechanics of making this dish are ludicrously simple, you don’t even have to be able to cook as long as you can squeeze stuff and wield a knife. The main ingredient that makes everything work is citric acid in the form of limes, lemons or oranges. When the citric acid comes in contact with the raw fish it causes the proteins in the fish (or indeed any seafood) to become denatured, essentially ‘pickling’ or ‘cooking’ the fish rendering it safe for consumption as well as contributing a wonderful flavour, as with sushi it is standard to use only the freshest seafood you can get your mitts on…but more of that later.
Ceviche is one of those dishes that were born out of necessity. Some say it originated in the South Pacific, other say that it appeared in South America, the problem with South America is that despite having a mildly acidic native fruit (banana passion fruit), citrus fruits were introduced from Spain by the conquistadors. Spanish boats always kept bucket loads of citrus fruit onboard to prevent scurvy and they were bobbing about on a massive fish pond, full of protein, put those to together and you get a tasty snack involving little preparation and a healthy dose of vitamin C.
As long as you go for a firm textured (not flaky) white fish you will be on fine ceviche ground. Tilapia, bass, marlin, swordfish, hake, and sea bream are all good choices. As for other seafood, squid, scallops and prawns all work very well. Try to avoid oily fish such as mackerel and tuna as they don’t soak up the citrus juice so well rendering the fish fairly raw, also bottom feeders such as monkfish should be avoided due to the amount of parasites they can carry.
Basic Ceviche recipe.
I have no doubt in my mind that this is the finest summer dish you could ever have the pleasure of dining on. There are so many variations of this dish from around the world (my favourite variation is the Cook Island’s Ika Mata- see blog post here). The principles are to use the freshest fish, Lime or lemon juice and a punch of chilli, mixed with salt and the crunchiness of the holy trinity (onion, celery and carrot).
Serves 4. Time: 40 minutes max.
500gs of firm textured white fish (see above)
Juice of 3 limes
1 small red chilli (finely chopped)
2 carrots (quartered lengthways and finely chopped)
4 sticks of celery (quartered lengthways and finely chopped)
2 large shallots (chopped in half and cut finely lengthways)
2 tomatoes (deseeded and finely chopped)
Half a red pepper and half a green pepper (finely chopped)
1 handful of coriander (finely chopped)
Salt & pepper
First chop the fish into bite size chunks and place in a bowl. Roll the limes on a hard surface with your hand, chop in half and squeeze every ounce of juice out of the buggers onto the fish. Add a good sprinkle of salt onto the juice covered give a good mix and then push the fish down in the bowl so they are just covered with the lime juice and place in the fridge to ‘cook’ for 30 minutes.
Next get cracking chopping up all them veggies and place in a bowl. Feel free to play around with additions- as long as they have a good crunch you cant go wrong.
After 30 minutes remove the fish from the fridge, by this time the fish should have turned from translucent to an opaque white color. Drain the limejuice from the fish. Add the chopped veggies, a generous glug of olive oil and give it a good mix. Taste a spoonful and add salt and pepper, as you deem necessary.
Serve with a potato salad, cous cous, or even on its own wish a fresh chunk of bread. Just make sure its hot outside!
I am out in Hossegor, France, at the moment, had a nightmare getting out here because of the bloody French Air traffic people being lazy- had to go overland and arrived 36 hours late. I made a batch of the above and took it down to an evening picnic down by the lake last Friday- very popular dish! Unfortunately I screwed my foot on a surfboard fin yesterday whilst playing in the Atlantic- flaps of skin hanging off- nice! Oh and the barn is looking grand, so grand that it has been picked to be part of the next series of ‘May the best house win’ on ITV…better spruce it up a bit!