While Sushi has been conquering the world over several decades, another traditional food with raw fish has only recently emerged from the shadows. Ceviche is probably the most signature dish of Peruvian cuisine and was even declared a part of the national heritage. Slowly but surely, the typical salad of fish and seafood marinated in citrus juice is taking on hipster restaurants around the world.
Raw fish salad? Doesn’t sound too appealing? Well, technically it is not really raw anymore. When cooking fish, the involved heat denatures the proteins of the fish. This chemical process turns the flesh opaque and produces the typical firm texture. The same process basically happens by using the acid of citrus fruits. Therefore, the fish in Ceviche is effectively “cooked” even without using proper heat to do so.
Every Seafood Lover Will Find Their Own Ceviche
Due to its high popularity, Ceviche is nowadays common in many other South American countries as well. It sometimes also goes by the spelling of “Cebiche”, depending on which part of the continent you are in. The spread beyond Peru’s borders has not only resulted in variations in the name but also in the ingredients. Thus, you can now find countless regional versions that each come with a favorite fish or shellfish.
Common fish species are snapper, sea bass, mahi-mahi, and tilapia as well as seafood like shrimp, scallops, squid, and octopus. While the original only comes with the citrus marinate, other types sometimes contain sauces based on ketchup for instance. Apart from the fish, Ceviche typically also includes onions, chilis and cilantro. Popular additions are sometimes tomatoes, avocado, corn and cooked sweet potato, again depending on the region.
Ceviche is best served chilled or at room temperature. It is great as a starter but can also be eaten as a main dish. Especially along the Peruvian coast, it is a standard on the menu of restaurants and little food joints. The raw fish salad goes well with salted crackers, toasted pita bread or French baguette. A nice way of enjoying the traditional dish is to share it with friends or family. Siply put the Ceviche in a bowl in the middle of the table and let people spoon it onto the crackers or bread.
Probably the key to making delicious Ceviche is finding the right amount of time for marinating it. If you leave it for too long, the shellfish might become chewy whereas the fish will be crumbly and fall apart. If you stop the process too early, the fish will still be completely raw. Thus, it might take a bit of practice to get it right.
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Who Came Up With The “Citrus Cooking” Method?
Although the origin of Ceviche is not entirely clear, it is likely that the ancient Moche invented its general concept. The coastal civilisation living in the north of current-day Peru some 2000 years ago, already prepared sea food by using the fermented juice from the local banana passionfruit. Later on, the Incas used the same method to marinate fish. Their agent was the traditional corn beer called Chicha, which was also used for sacrificial purposes to praise their gods. Along with this use in the Andes, coastal Peruvians would use salt and Ají in the period before the Spanish arrived. It is therefore not far to seek that the locals simply switched to the citrus fruits brought by the conquistadores to create the dish as we know it today.
Is It Even Safe To Eat Uncooked Fish In Ceviche?
Fish can generally be tricky, especially in places where hygienic standards may not be as high. And of course this becomes even more critical when looking at raw fish. You might argue now that the citrus juice basically cooks the fish as we told you earlier. However, this does not hold true for killing bacteria which only works with actual heat. For that reason, you should be careful to only eat at places that seem trustworthy!
But even if you are too scared to eat Ceviche from an unfamiliar source, there is no need to miss out on it completely. Get some super fresh fish from the market or your local supermarket and prepare yourself some great Ceviche with our simple and authentic recipe:
½ red onion
250g sea bass or sea bream fillets
½ tsp salt
1 red chilli (or 1 tsp Ají paste)
1 bunch of cilantro
Peel the onions and chop them finely
Take away some of the spiciness of the raw onions by soaking them in iced water for 5 minutes
Cut the fish into small cubes of about 1-2cm (this will ensure better results of pieces being partly cooked and partly raw as compared to slicing the fish)
Rub the fish with ½ tea spoon of salt and let it rest for a minute
Now, add the citrus juice, chili and onions and let it marinate while adjusting the seasoning according to taste
After a while, the fish will start turning opaque and firm. You can decide for yourself how “cooked you want it to be. After about 10 minutes, it is medium-rare with a tender and moist center. After 25 minutes it will be somewhat medium-well. Just make sure you don’t leave it for too long.
Portion the Ceviche in small bowls, chop the cilantro and scatter it over the marinated fish
Garnish with crackers or slices of bread and serve immediately
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