So What is Ceviche, Anyway?
Ceviche is one of the most widely variable dishes found in Chile. Typical to Central and South America, Ceviche is a seafood dish based on raw fish cured in citrus juice. It’s base can be almost any fish or mollusk imaginable, some obviously preferred over others. Other variations in spelling include Seviche and Cebiche.
Now before you go scrunching up your face in disgust if you haven’t tried it, consider this: Japanese Sushi is raw fish without the curative powers of citrus. And people have been eating it with gusto for hundreds of years. Now back to ceviche, if you’re still unsure, think about what citrus does to fish. Citrus juices act as a curing agent on the raw fish, denaturing its proteins much like what happens when you cook the meat over heat. One thing to keep in mind: your fish must be fresh and healthy. This is as true for sushi as it is for ceviche. Citrus juices won’t kill bacteria like heat will, so you’ll want to source your fish carefully, clean it upon arriving home, and consume it within a day or two of buying it.
Is it REALLY Chilean?
The story behind ceviche and its origins is hard to trace. Some folks say it was a product entirely of the New World, a fish dish cured to withstand a lengthy journey of runners bringing the food up the mountainsides to the Incan emperor. Others claim it was brought to the New World by Moorish slaves. Yet others declare the Polynesians brought it across the world, a time-honored tradition of these sea-faring warriors.
Probably the countries most known for their ceviche include Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. But, of course, it is a dish found in nearly every coastal region, each with its own unique flavors and ingredients.
But, it is Chilean? The beauty of New World cuisine is that it is a product of centuries of integration of indigenous and conquering flavors. Whether ceviche has been consumed in Chile for the past five-hundred years or the past thousand is immaterial when it comes down to defining a country’s native cuisine. Chileans eat ceviche. It is a regular part of their lives and found in restaurants and in private houses alike. As such, I say, YES!, Ceviche is Chilean.
It is common for neighboring countries to battle over who does the best of what. Between Chile and Argentina the booty to capture has always been the best asado (or barbecue). Between Chile and Peru, it is often disputed which country makes the best ceviche.
All I can say is that while I’ve yet to travel to Peru, I have also not encountered a “typical” Chilean ceviche. Every one I’ve tried has been different from the others, each making use of the best (or sometimes, cheapest) local ingredients. I’ve eaten ceviche I loved, ceviche I was indifferent to, and ceviche that was downright awful.
So, at least for me, for now, the jury is still out on that one…
Here is a pretty basic ceviche that should be easy to try no matter where in the world you live: Reineta Ceviche.
Reineta is one of the most common and least expensive fishes you’ll encounter in Chile. It has a firm white flesh and because of its mild taste, it does well in ceviche, taking on the flavors of the citrus and accompanying ingredients. (Read more about Chilean Reineta here.)
But for those of you not in Chile, you’ll find that firmer white fish such as corvina or sea bass, will work just as nicely.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Yield: 3 servings
2 fillets (or about 16 ounces) of reineta, boned and cubed
4 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, coarse grain
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup corn, large kernel
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup rough chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup diced semi-hard avocado
1 1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (after all, some like it hot)
Don’t be alarmed by the longish ingredient list. Preparing ceviche is not difficult. The most technical and time-consuming part of making this dish is the preparation – and on a scale of 1-10 of difficulty, I would rate this one a 2, just above pouring yourself a glass of wine.
In fact, wine isn’t such a bad idea. Nothing accompanies ceviche better than a chilled white wine. So grab yourself a glass and a handful of crackers and read on…
First things first, find a big bowl that will easily fit all your ingredients when mixed together. Give yourself a little extra space to contain any splashes as you mix everything together. Now, mix everything together. And there you have it – Ceviche!
Well, hold on now, there are a few preparatory notes I want to include before you get started. It’s well and good to mix everything together but you don’t want to forget that because you are using citrus to cure the fish, you’ll need to give it time to do just that. If you want to eat the ceviche as soon as possible, I recommend adding the citrus to the fish before you do anything else. Then, when all the ingredients have been mixed in (minus the avocado – read on), you will need to sit your big bowl in the fridge for at least an hour to give the citrus time to do its work.
I recommend that you save the avocados for last because they are the softest ingredient and may be adversely affected by the curing process. Hard ones can be diced and mixed in right away, but if you’ve got slightly mushy ones, you’ll want to wait until just before serving to add these delicious babies, unless you like your ceviche swimming in a bowl of avocado soup.
Serve it up!
Ceviche is served best when placed in a dish that holds the juice close around the meat – ie. a bowl of some sort. Ceviche can be eaten as an appetizer, a snack, a side dish, or even an entree, depending on the kind of day you’ve had. You can scoop it up by the spoonful or genteelly ladle a few gobbets onto a fancy cracker if you so wish. Hell, smear it into a hot dog bun if that’s what you’re into.
One thing is for sure, ceviche is malleable and variable and that is part of its appeal. One you’ve mastered this basic version, mix it up a bit. Switch out the fish and try it with scallops or tuna, forgo the corn and add fava beans. I’ve even eaten a really tasty ceviche that utilized barley! (More on that in a future post.) For more ideas, take a look at my pinterest board: Ceviche.
But, please, don’t forget a good drink and good company. Also, a garnish of fresh chapped cilantro will never do you wrong.