This morning someone asked me for a ceviche recipe… it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago with a less-than-charming head chef who, for the purposes of this little anecdote, I’ll refer to simply as “R” – it is less wordy and so much more polite than the names I used to call him in my head.
Me: R, may I please have your osso bucco recipe?
R: Well, SHELLEY, (yes, in the conversation he did in fact snarlingly bold, cap and italicize my name), if you knew anything at all about cooking you would know that it is a method and not a recipe. So no. You may not.
Me: *Goes to the computer, looks up recipe on recipe database in folder called “recipes”. Prints recipe. Goes home and prepares osso bucco.*
R was snarly but he made a good osso bucco with close-to-perfect risotto Milanese and he gave me my first taste of ceviche.
So back to the point of the post. Ceviche.
There are so many interesting and clever ceviche recipes around. Recipes that include coconut milk or coconut water, passion fruit, mango – I suppose anything that is evocative of a day in a tropical paradise (although in Ecuador they apparently add ketchup, which doesn’t scream “tropical paradise” to me, but you know what I mean). Whatever the recipe, the basic principle is always the same – fish or seafood is marinated or “cooked” in citrus juice. The preparation is similar to that of an escabeche, both require some kind of acid to “cook” the fish, the biggest difference being that an escabeche is prepared using vinegar, not citrus juice.
This is my default ceviche recipe – it is embarrassingly simple and never fails to impress. And while I would love to claim the recipe as my own, the Incas probably deserve credit for the method…
This serves four as a starter. I made it on Saturday night using scallops and prawns (Florida shrimp) but the recipe is good for any fish, really. I prefer something firm like halibut, yellow tail, Chilean sea bass – be guided by what is freshest on the day.
- 4 large scallops
- 8 Florida shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- 1/4 red onion – sliced as finely as you can get it. I used a mandolin.
- 2 medium red chillis – finely sliced. As many as you think you need to achieve the level of spicy you enjoy
- Juice of fresh limes – enough to cover your fish. I needed 4 1/2 limes for this recipe but obviously that changes depending on how juicy your limes are.
- 1 medium avo, perfectly ripe
- Tbl spoon fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
- Generous pinch of sea salt
Add your sliced chillis, onion and sea salt to the fresh juice in a glass or plastic container – nothing reactive. Prepare the seafood. Each scallop should yield eight pieces by slicing down the centre (as you would a bagle), this will give you two discs of equal thickness, and then cutting each disc into quarters. If you are using a fillet of fish, cut into pieces of equal size and thickness, around one and a half cm by one and a half cm. Slice the prawns lengthways down the centre and then cut into two or three pieces (depending on the size of your prawns).
Put all your fish/seafood into the lime juice and make sure it is all completely submerged – I like to cover it with cling film with the film actually pressed down onto the surface of the liquid to keep air out and to keep the fish covered by juice. Leave in the fridge to “cook” for no less than an hour. It is ready when the fish and seafood have turned opaque and the prawns have developed the same light pink colouring as when cooked using heat – this happens because the citrus affects the protein chain in the same way as heat does (it’s a bit more complicated than that but only interesting if you’re interested in it so I won’t bore you with the details – if you’re interested, Google it).
When you’re ready to serve, carefully remove the fish from the juice (save the juice) with a slotted spoon and place into a clean prep bowl if you’re serving the dish plated or a serving bowl if it’s a help-yourself scenario (plating is better as you are able to ensure everyone gets equal amounts of all the good stuff). Cut the avo into cubes equal in size to that of your fish and gently stir the avo and the coriander through the fish mixture. Plate-up, drizzle each portion with about a table spoon of the reserved lime marinade and serve.
Fish – as with sashimi, you have to use fresh fish of excellent quality. That is all. You have to. While the acid in the citrus fruit juice alters the proteins in the fish enough to make it look and taste “cooked” it is not able to kill bacteria as efficiently as heat will and so it must be of the best possible standard before you start.
Freshly squeezed lime juice (or whatever citrus juice you’re using) – Freshly squeezed. Freshly squeezed. Freshly squeezed. Not from a bottle. Not from concentrate. Not squeezed yesterday. Freshly squeezed.
Chilli – I like the heat of birds’ eye chillis and the appearance of red chillis but really any fresh chilli will do – red or green serranos or jalapenos are probably more traditional. Habaneros will also work.
Prawns/shrimp – in England, South Africa and America the words “prawns” and “shrimp” mean different things. They all refer to bottom-feeding exoskeletons with eyes that look like black lentils but the size varies. What you want is something meaty and that you can slice to about a 1.5 cm by 1cm piece – don’t buy tiger giant or big LMs, I know they are delicious, but they’re more delicious left whole and tossed on a BBQ.
Avocado – this is not an essential ingredient but I like the contrast of the creamy avo to the firm fish. If your avo is not perfectly ripe, soft and buttery, don’t bother with it.
Red onion – swap for a banana shallot if you like.
I’m sorry I have no photos – we had this one night over the weekend but as I was not expecting the request I, once again, failed to take out my camera. When will I learn?