Ceviche is my kind of food. It is so intense that your mouth is not totally sure about what is going on. It has copious amounts of citrus, raw onion, garlic, chilli & salt. It leaves your tongue kind of numb, I love it.
Ceviche is basically raw fish marinaded in citrus. The acidity of the citrus changes the protein in the fish and sort of cooks it. If you get it right the fish becomes lovely and tender and flavoursome.
I first tried it years ago in Ecuador and loved it straight away. However, I ate the most ceviche in Peru where I lived for 3 years. Peruvians are crazy about ceviche and scoff at the idea that any other country has it or can make it. People in Peru like to discuss food, they argue vociferously about how to prepare popular dishes and reckon their food is the best in the world.
When it comes to ceviche they generally agree on the ingredients and accompaniments but not necessarily the details of preparation. Marinading seems to be the most controversial aspect to preparing the dish.
It seems that while I was away Peruvian food has become a big thing in the UK and you can find lots of articles now about how to make ceviche. The instructions vary from marinading the fish for a few minutes to several hours and there are endless discussions about which type of fish is best.
I had not eaten ceviche since leaving Peru & had actually never made it as I always ate it in restaurants. Cevicherias are everywhere even in mountain cities like Cusco. It is the dish I miss most and I wanted to have some. I decided to go and visit a Peruvian friend who now lives in England to find out how she makes it so far from home.Sylvana is from Lima and passionate about cooking. She runs a Peruvian supper club in Colchester & has a food van. I had sampled her food before, she makes a wicked Causa and Arroz con Pollo. I knew her ceviche would take me right back to Peru & it did. The pisco sours helped with that too!
In Peru, ceviche is generally served with choclo (a variety of corn) canchas (fried, crunchy corn) and boiled sweet potatoes. These accompaniments work beautifully with the acidic fish. The sweet potato adds a mellow, starchy sweetness and the textures of the corn add crunch and sweetness too. All together I think they make a well-balanced dish. If you are planning to serve ceviche as a main course it will need some sort of accompaniment. As a small starter it is fine on its own.
Here are some of the things I learned which should help you to prepare a proper ceviche at home. It is really very easy and can be done in minutes. If you are not feeling confident, a Pisco Sour should help.
Tips for making an authentic Peruvian ceviche:
1. The fish
We used three varieties of fish to try them out, sea bass, haddock & whiting. They were all good and we agreed we would buy whichever was the most fresh in future. However, the sea bass was the best for flavour and texture.
Other types of seafood work really well prepared in this style. I adore prawn ceviche & octopus is lovely too.
2. The citrus
Sylvana had prepared for my visit by visiting Elephant & Castle for some imported Peruvian provisions. These included limones. In Peru they do not grow limes & lemons they produce limones which are like a cross between the two. I hated that when I lived there as I missed having the difference, Mexican food is not the same without limes. Now it turns out I would like to have limones sometimes for ceviche & pisco sours. I have tried to replicate the flavour with lemons & limes & found that using a third lime juice & two thirds lemon juice is the closest I can get.
Peru has a number of really distinctive chillies. Generally aji limo is used for ceviche. It has a clean flavour & intense heat. Sylvana uses scotch bonnet here. I thought it would be too hot but it is perfect.
Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) is the name for the marinade used to ‘cook’ the fish. Lots of recipes recommend preparing this in advance by infusing the citrus with chilli, garlic & ginger then taking these out & placing the fish into the liquid for varying lengths of time. The fish should be translucent & soft in the center
Sylvana did not bother with this stage. She chopped everything up, mixed it in a bowl & we ate it. The results were superb. The fish marinades for just a few minutes so that it is still raw in the center and really soft. I tried marinading the fish for longer when I made it at home afterwards & found that even after 20 minutes it was too hard. I was never served it like that in Peru.
You can have a bowl of ceviche ready in no time. It is actually a really easy dish to prepare and is healthy and satisfying. Using the freshest of fish is the key. I always mention to my fishmonger that I will be eating it raw so he directs me to his freshest produce. In Peru it is almost always eaten at lunch time. Lunch is the main meal of the day & everyone has much more time to enjoy it than we do in England but don’t let that stop you. It is perfect for a weekend lunch or dinner on a summer evening.
Ingredients (for 2 people as a main course):
300g White fish
2 cloves garlic
1 small red onion
1 scotch bonnet
1/4 tsp white pepper
2-3 tsp salt
Handful of corianader leaves
1 boiled sweet potato
1 cooked corn on the cob
Prepare the sweet potato & corn first so that they have time to cool. They should be served at room temperature with the ceviche.
1. Prepare all the ingredients. The onion should be finely sliced & the garlic, coriander & chilli finely chopped. The fish should be cut into bite size pieces. I think they should not be more than 1cm thick as they will be too raw.
Take a sip of pisco sour.
2. Put the fish, garlic, onion, chili and coriander into a bowl and squeeze over the citrus juices.
3. Add half the salt, white pepper, milk & coriander. Mix everything thoroughly.
4. Now taste to check the seasoning. It will probably need more salt, it needs more than you might think. The flavours should really burst in your mouth so add more salt if they don’t.