Ceviche: Quick, Simple and Healthy Taste of the Tropics
After a long morning at the beach frolicking in the surf, nothing is more appetizing than the fresh taste of ceviche, especially paired with an ice cold beer and sitting at a beachside shack with the warm ocean breeze in your face and sand on your toes. Or you can make as a quick and healthy lunch at home, and invoke the tropical setting with your mind, beer optional…
Ceviche (also spelled cebiche or seviche depending on location) is a mainstay of Latin American cuisine with origins dating since before the Spanish discovery. The origin of ceviche is generally accepted as Peru, when the Spaniards arrived there they found the locals eating a dish of fish marinated in a local fruit, Tumbo, in the family of Passion Fruit. The locals adopted European citrus as the marinating agent, and the present version of ceviche was born.
Today the term is used generally for any version of seafood marinated in lime, but has extended loosely to other marinated foods – green plantains in Costa Rica for example. I like to think there are 2 main types of traditional ceviche: the Andean style of Perú and Ecuador, and the Mesoamerican version, typical of Mexico, Central America and Colombia.
The Andean ceviche tends to have less herbs and marinate less time, some claim as a result of the culinary influence of Japanese immigrants to Peru. Mesoamerican ceviche may include chopped onion, bell peppers, cilantro, tomato and other, and generally relies on tomatoes or ketchup to mitigate acidity and add some sweetness to the dish. Andean ceviche utilizes yams and corn for this effect.
There are however hundreds of variations of this dish, and your creativity is the limit. I found great inspiration in Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s The Great Ceviche Book, which provides a huge range of recipes. Variations are limited only by your imagination.
Sometimes ingredients can be non intuitive, and yield amazing results. In a recent trip to London I paid a visit to House of Ho restaurant in SOHO, after having seen head chef Bobby Chinn’s video of his Mangosteen Truffle Ceviche on Crane TV. His use of mangosteen, with a very delicate sweet/sour flavor, truffle oil and coconut milk applied to a mix of shrimp, scallops and corvina lightly marinated in lime, resulted in a symphony of flavors in my mouth. I tried the recipe at home minus the truffle oil, and it still was amazing.
I like the clean and simple version of the Mesoamerican fish Ceviche typical of Costa Rica for a quick, simple and healthy weekend lunch. It takes 15-20 minutes of preparation, and 30 to 60 minutes marinating time, depending on your taste.
As with everything food, the quality of the ingredients is essential, so make sure you start with very fresh, quality white fish, such as Sea Bass, Mahi Mahi, Flounder, or Tilapia. Ask your fishmonger for fish that arrived the same day, and ask to smell it and touch it. Your fish should not have a pungent smell, and should be firm to the touch, with an almost translucent white color. The lime is also especially critical for this dish, make sure you shop for very sour limes, such as messina or key limes.
Costa Rican Ceviche
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound fresh white fish such as Seabass or Founder, cut in 1 inch by 1/2 inch chunks
One medium sized yellow or white onion, chopped
One medium sized red bell pepper, chopped
Four tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 cup lime juice, about 4-5 large limes
1 teaspoon salt
Small lettuce leaves and sliced green plantain for garnish
Mix all the ingredients in a shallow container such as a pyrex 2 quart baking dish, and let marinate for one half hour to one hour at room temperature, depending on your taste.
Serve in a cocktail glass, small plate or ramekin, along with tortilla chips, ketchup and hot sauce, which you will want to add sparingly and taste. The ketchup cuts through the lime taste and helps balance the flavors, but you can easily do without it as well.