A good Latin American dish found at real (read: not Taco Bell or Chi-Chi's) Mexican and South American restaurants. Frequently an appetizer.

It is a cold dish made of fish marinated in lemon or lime juice, onion, and chili, and usually served with cilantro and avacado. The fish is usually dropped in raw, and is chemically cooked by the high acid content of the food.

A popular way to enjoy ceviche in Mexico is on a crispy round fried corn tortilla, called a tostada. You can buy these refreshing ceviche snacks from little streetcart vendors in almost all the cities that lie on the coast. Each coastal city has it's own tostada especial. In Ensenada, for example, the locals place thinly-sliced slivers of avocado, shrimp, and diced octopus on top of the tangy ceviche. Some like to add a splash of worcestershire sauce to top it all off.

Ceviche, Peruvian Style

  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless and absolutely fresh fish filets (sole or sea bass, usually) cut into one-inch cubes or strips
  • 1/2 cup Peruvian lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 Peruvian hot peppers (aji and/or rocoto), chopped, without seeds or veins
  • 2 teaspoons coriander, chopped
  • 2 red onions, julienne cut
  • 2 boiled ears of corn
  • 2 boiled white potatoes
  • 2 boiled sweet potatoes
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Lightly rinse fish in cold water then drain, careful that pieces maintain shape. Season with salt, pepper, garlic (garlic is the soul of ceviche, do not spare it), hot peppers (ceviche without hot peppers runs at best 75% of what it could be, the hotter the better), celery and coriander. Some people add parsley as well. Mix well and add lime juice (juice from acidic Peruvian limes works best, they are also known as key limes in the US).

REPLACEMENT OF KEY LIMES FOR LEMONS IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED AND NOT OPEN FOR DISCUSSION.

If nevertheless, you feel like using regular lemons instead of key limes, then you might as well use chicken instead of fish - but please don't call it ceviche.

Ahem, anyway ... Use red onions only, laying them over your dish, do not mix them in until you are ready to eat; if you mix in the onions, they will loose their crunchy texture, and the flavor may change. Allow mixture to stand for three minutes; lime juice will "cook" the raw fish.

If using fish other than sole or sea bass, let mixture stand for 10 minutes (Duration of cooking is a matter of taste). Serve on platter with lime juice mixture, covering fish with washed and drained raw onions. Garnish with corn, and slices of white potato and sweet potato. They help to balance the "hotness" of the dish.

Serves four people.

In Peru fishermen often take a plastic bag in the boat to mix and eat ceviche on the spot. Divers just make "fin ceviche" on the blade of their fins. It'll put lead in your pencil.

Note : Most fish and seafood goes well in ceviche but not all. To name a few: octopus, conch, calamari, shrimp, tuna, flounder. Octopus merits special pre-preparation. And also, if you are lucky enough to find rocotos, be very careful when handling them. A well known variation of this plate is the famous Tiradito, which is more or less, the seasoned fish cooked in the key lime juice alone; with no onions, hot peppers, potatoes, etc.

The U.S. government warns that ceviche has been implicated in parasitic infection (as well as a vector for transmission of cholera). The high acid content of the lime juice will transform the proteins in the fish as if it were "cooked", but it does not kill bacteria or parasites within the fish's flesh (it may kill some on the surface of the fish). This is dependent upon both the acidity of the marinade and the length of time the fish is marinated. While parasites may be less of an issue with fish purchased from a reputable and modern facility with up to date sanitary precautions, if you're buying from a street vendor in Latin America, you are taking a risk. In any case, from a public health perspective, ceviche is considered "raw fish." The FDA recommends freezing fish intended for raw consumption in order to kill the parasites.

Sources:
U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition FISH AND FISHERIES PRODUCTS HAZARDS AND CONTROLS GUIDANCE: Third Edition. June 2001. <http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/haccp4e.html> (25 February 2003)
Robert V. Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H., Eric D. Mintz, M.D., M.P.H., Robert E. Quick, M.D., M.P.H., "Epidemic Cholera in the New World: Translating Field Epidemiology into New Prevention Strategies," Emerging Infectious Diseases Volume 1, Number 4, 25 October 1995, <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol1no4/tauxe.htm> (25 February 2003)

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