The Hungry Engineer

Ceviche or Seviche?

24 Jul 2008

Ceviche (or seviche) is a mix of citrus juice, vegetables, seasonings and raw seafood that is allowed to marinate sufficiently long for the seafood to effectively “cook” in the acidic mixture. Naturally, without heat, it doesn’t really cook so extremely fresh and reliable seafood is a must for this dish.

Regarding the numerous spellings for this dish - I’ve dug around a little trying to find the origins of each spelling, and instead found an additional variation to add to the list: cebiche. I also found that some folks believe this dish to be derived from escabeche, a Spanish fish dish that features poached fish in a vinegary sauce believed to have originally been devised for the purposes of preservation. The long and short is that no one seems to know for sure. Apparently the name is spelled differently depending on what region of Central and South America you happen to be in. Thought to be Peruvian in origin (there are a range of opinions on that topic), the mix can vary quite a lot as you make your way across these regions. The citrus can be any or a mixture of limes, lemons, and bitter orange. There are any number of vegetables and seasonings that could be employed. The seafood varies by region as well, with some places preferring fish or only specific types of fish, others sticking with shrimp, and still others throwing in a whole melange of different sea creatures (my favorite).

I first had the opportunity to try ceviche when my husband and I visited the Yucatan region of Mexico in 2003. The setting couldn’t have been better. I was barefoot, sitting at a little table by the beach, and they brought my ceviche out on a styrofoam plate and served it with saltines. The moment I put the first bite in my mouth, I was in heaven. The puckery citrus and piquant chilies merged with onions and tomatoes to provide an amazing backdrop for the variety of seafood (fish, squid, and shrimp) that, incredibly enough, still managed to retain its distinct flavor even after marinating for some time in that much more strongly flavored mixture. The lightly salted crackers were the perfect vehicle for scooping up the delicious bits of vegetable and seafood. And they all went magnificently with whatever Mexican beer I was drinking. It was the very essence of fresh, and I wanted more.

I had hunted around for ceviche recipes for some time before finally finding this one from Cooking Light, which I am especially fond of. There are lots of ceviche recipes that rely on the citrus juice for all their flavor. I have found that I definitely prefer mine to have a spicy component as well. With just a few modifications, I’ve found that the recipe above is perfect. Their seafood is partially cooked before being dumped in the citrus mix which works well with my husband’s apprehension about me serving him raw fish. They hit a nice sour / spicy balance, which we both like. Food is very subjective – you may like the recipe fine as written. If you’re interested though, here are the modifications I make when preparing this ceviche. I used ¼ cup of cilantro instead of ½ cup. In my book, cilantro adds the best flavor when used somewhat sparingly, and too much is definitely too much. I used one tablespoon of serranos instead of two. I’ve found that one tablespoon of serranos chopped up with their seeds makes the dish sufficiently spicy without totally destroying your taste buds. Also, I cut the scallops and shrimp in half in an effort to better distribute the seafood so there’s a little in every bite and to make it easier to scoop up and consume. Finally, I didn’t use any of the tomato sauce the recipe calls for. I like the flavors as they are without the addition and find that the tomato-onion-lime mixture macerates and makes enough of its own juice that adding more really isn’t required. Per the recipe’s suggestion, we serve them with baked flour tortillas. I cut 10" tortillas into 6ths, spread them out on a cookie sheet, put the tiniest amount of vegetable oil on them, and sprinkled them with a bit of salt and smoked paprika. Then I baked them in the middle of a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. I’m sure the red pepper suggested in the recipe would’ve been lovely, but I figured the spiciness from the serranos was sufficient for this dish. Plus I like the way smoked paprika smells.

A couple more notes … First, my husband is a dyed-in-the-wool fresh tomato hater, and he gobbles this stuff up, tomatoes and all. So even if you too are a tomato-hater, you may give this recipe a shot and also find that the lime juice and spice mitigate some the unpleasantness you find in the tomatoes. Second, ceviche is generally served as an appetizer, but we don’t care too much about that around here. (Seriously, when cooking day to day, how often do you make appetizers to nibble on before dinner?) I mix up a big batch and turn an appetizer for 6 into a meal for 3 or 4. We rounded out our meal last night with some jicama slaw. Sometimes I’ll cut up some fresh fruit to serve with it. Either way, it was delicious.

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