Variations on Spicy Ceviche

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by Nancy Gerlach, Food Editor Emeritus

Nancy Gerlach



Ceviche Mexicana

Peruvian Seviche

Ceviche from Quintana Roo

Ecuadorian Shrimp Seviche

Chilean Seviche

Whether you spell it ceviche or seviche, it’s a popular appetizer throughout most Latin America countries and the Caribbean as well. Basically, ceviche is composed of raw fish or other seafood that is marinated in citrus juices, with various herbs, seasonings, and of course, chiles added. The citric acid in the juice changes the texture of the fish so that appears to have been cooked.

The origin of ceviche has been hotly contested, with a number of countries claiming its creation. Food historians have, however, determined that it originated in what is now Peru. It was there along the west coast of South America that the pre-Colombians ate their fish raw with dried chiles and local herbs. After the arrival of the Conquistadors, the dish evolved into what we know today. The Spanish introduced the Arabic influence of cooking with fruits by way of the Moorish cooks they brought on their ships. And it was these cooks who were responsible for the addition of citrus juice to the earlier seafood mix.

The chemical reaction that occurs when the fish marinates produces much the same effect that cooking does. The citric acid reacts with and alters the albumen protein, turning it from translucent to firm, white, and slightly opaque. The acid also helps prevent the growth of micro-organisms, while softening the fibers in the flesh and tenderizing the fish. The result resembles cooked fish, but the fish isn’t really cooked, it’s more like pickled. So it’s imperative that you take the same precautions when selecting the fish for ceviche as you would if serving sashimi. Always purchase your fish from a place you trust, and if you still have hesitations about the health risks of eating raw fish, freeze it for a couple of days and defrost it in the refrigerator before using.

Just about any fresh, firm-fleshed fish will work in a ceviche but be sure to choose one that is free of small, hard-to-find bones. In Peru, the fish of choice is “corbina” or corvino, a large fish rather like a striped bass, that is common off their coast. Fresh ocean fish such as tuna, marlin, snapper, grouper, salmon, or pompano are all good choices. Ceviche can also be prepared using shellfish such as shrimp, scallops, clams, and even lobster. If using shrimp, it’s best to briefly blanch it before marinating because if used raw, the acid tends to break down the texture rather than tenderizing it.

Citrus juice, either orange, lime, lemon, or grapefruit, is the acidic ingredient in a ceviche, although vinegar occasionally is used. Some recipes call for white wine, which does add a different flavor to the dish, but don’t add more than half the quantity of citrus juice or you will alter the acidity in the recipe. And, anytime you dilute the acidity too much, the fish won’t “cook.”

The chiles used in ceviches are varied and reflect the “chile of choice” of the country of origin. In Mexico, it’s usually prepared with serranos and jalapeños; habaneros are used throughout the Caribbean, and in South America, the ají is the most commonly used chile. So any chile you prefer is acceptable. I’ve even seen some recipes suggesting substituting bell peppers for the hot chile in order to tame the fire. What I recommend, however, is to just reduce the amount of chile used, choose a milder pod, or serve your ceviche Yucatecan-style with a bowl of chopped chiles on the table for people to add according to personal preference.

Each Latin country has given their ceviche a personal touch. In Peru, they serve it with slices of cold sweet potatoes and chuclos (corn on the cob), while in Ecuador, it’s usually made with shrimp accompanied by popcorn, potato chips, or toasted corn nuts made from the giant kernels of corn native to that country. In Panama, it’s commonly served with buttered saltine crackers. And ceviche in Mexico often contains a variety of fish in a single ceviche, flavored with tomatoes, cilantro, avocados, garlic, and be served on toasted tortillas.

The following are just a few recipes demonstrate the diversity of the simple combination of seafood, juice and chile. By varying the herbs and seasonings as well as the juices and seafood, it’s easy to develop your own signature ceviche. Just remember they all require advance preparation.

Oh, by the way, ceviche or seviche are both correct. In Mexico the dish is called ceviche and further south in Latin America the spelling changes to seviche.

Please note that all the following recipes require advance preparation!

Ceviche Mexicana

This is a basic Mexican version of ceviche that is easily varied with the addition of fruits and vegetables that are in season. I like to add diced avocado, or jicama, or even cucumbers to add not only different flavors but also textures to the ceviche. By adding tomato juice and pulp to the recipe and serving in a large parfait glass, you transform the ceviche into the very popular, seafood cockteles found all over Mexico.

  • 1 pound any firm white fish, such as snapper, pompano, flounder, or bass, cut into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes

  • Juice of 8 Mexican limes, or Key limes

  • 2 jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, finely chopped or substitute serrano chiles

  • 1 medium tomato, chopped

  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Garnish: Lime wedges

Place the fish and chiles in a nonreactive bowl, add the lime juice and toss to coat the fish. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours, turning occasionally until the fish loses its translucency and turns opaque.

Just before serving add the tomato, onion, and half the cilantro and gently toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Put the ceviche in tall parfait glasses, garnish with the remaining cilantro, place a lime wedge on the rim of the glass and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Peruvian Seviche

Peru is said to be the birthplace of seviche and it’s considered their “National Dish.” There are quite a number of different seviches found there utilizing such seafood as clams, oysters, and mussels as well as fish. Probably the most unusual ingredients are the garnishes. The Peruvian seviches are garnished with rounds of cooked corn and cooked slices of sweet potatoes. Most often eaten as an appetizer, seviches such as this one however, make a nice light lunch entree.

  • 1 pound fish fillets, sea bass preferred cut in 3/4’’ cubes

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, divided in half

  • 2 rocoto chiles, stems and seeds removed, thinly sliced into rings, or substitute 1 habanero or 3 jalapeño chiles, divided in half

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1 cooked sweet potato, cut in 1-inch thick slices

  • 2 cooked ears of corn, cut in 2-inch thick slices

  • 1 head bibb lettuce, separated into leaves

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Place the fish and salt in a nonreactive bowl, add the fruit juices, one half of the onion and chiles, and the garlic, and lightly toss to coat the fish. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dish for to 1 to 4 hours turning occasionally until the fish loses its translucency and turns opaque.

Before serving, drain the seviche and toss with the remaining chiles and parsley. Place the lettuce leaves on individual salad plates and top with the fish. Place an ear of corn on the plate and a sweet potato on the opposite side of the plate. Garnish the seviche with the remaining onion rings and a few grindings of pepper and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium Hot

Ceviche from Quintana Roo

Everywhere that I’ve traveled in Mexico where there is an abundance of fresh seafood, there is an abundance of ceviche. This version, which I was served in a small restaurant in the seafood market in Cancun, is a variation of the more typical fish, onion, and chile ceviche.

  • ½ pound firm whitefish, such as snapper, pompano, or bass, cut in ½-inch cubes

  • ½ pound small, whole scallops

  • 1 cup bitter orange juice (see recipe below) or substitute 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1 habanero chile, stem and seeds removed, minced or substitute 2 fresh jalapeño or serrano chiles

  • 1 cup fresh pineapple, cut in chunks

  • 1 small banana, sliced

  • 3 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Combine the fish, scallops, orange juice, and chile in a nonreactive bowl. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours turning occasionally until the fish loses its translucency and turns opaque.

To serve, toss the fish with the fruit and put the ceviche in parfait glasses. Garnish with the peanuts and cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Bitter Orange Juice

  • ½ cup grapefruit juice

  • 1/4 cup orange juice

  • 1/4 cup lime juice

Mix all of the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and let stand at room temperature for an hour. Use within 24 hours.

Yield: 1 cup

Ecuadorian Shrimp Seviche

This is a quick to prepare and unusual seviche. In Ecuador it’s served with cancha, which is a toasted corn but, since it’s not readily available, the popcorn is an American substitution. This seviche is a quick one because you use precooked, frozen, small shrimp. If the popcorn is a bit ” out there” for you, there are a number of other garnishes that are also popular. Garnish with black olives, sliced hard-boiled egg, feta cheese, or a slice of corn on the cob.

  • 2 pounds frozen cooked small shrimp

  • 1 medium red onion, sliced very thin

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh aji chiles, or substitute yellow wax or jalapeño chiles

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

  • 3/4 cup lemon juice

  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • Chopped lettuce

  • 2½ cups freshly popped popcorn

Put the shrimp into a colander and run cold water over them for a minute or two to defrost. Drain thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Put the shrimp in a nonreactive bowl, add the onion, chiles, cilantro, tomatoes, vinegar, lemon and lime juice, and salt and toss lightly to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Drain the seviche in a colander. Place the lettuce on individual serving plates and top with the seviche, garnish with the warm popcorn and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Chilean Seviche

With 2,600 miles of coastline providing an abundance of seafood, it’s no wonder that Chileans consume more seafood that any of the other South American countries. Not all of the fish used in seviche is cubed, as evidenced by this popular recipe that calls for fish fillets. The bitter orange juice is from the Sevilla oranges that brought by the Spaniards and are so popular in this part of the world. This is a mild seviche which is usually garnished with hot sauce to bring up the heat. I like to use a Caribbean habanero-based because they compliment fruit, such as the grapefruits used here.

  • 1 pound Chilean sea bass fillets, or substitute sole or flounder fillets

  • 3/4 cup bitter orange juice (see recipe above)

  • 1 aji chile, stem and seeds removed, minced, or substitute a yellow wax or jalapeño chile

  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 grapefruit

  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, cut in thin strips

  • Lettuce leaves

  • Garnish: Caribbean-style habanero hot sauce

Cut the fish fillets in 1 to 2-inch pieces. Place them in a nonreactive bowl, cover with the juice, and gently toss to coat. Add the chile, onions, and garlic and mix gently. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours turning occasionally until the fish loses its translucency and turns opaque.

Section the grapefruit and cut the wedges in lengthwise pieces.

Drain off most of the marinating juice off the fish. Add the grapefruit sections and mint and gently toss. Place the lettuce on individual plates, top with the seviche, and garnish with a sprinkle of hot sauce. Serve with additional hot sauce on the side.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild to Medium


See also…

For even more Ceviche recipes, see also: Spicy Latin American Ceviche, by Dave DeWitt.

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