Ceviche for every occasion, Peruvian style
Classic ceviche with accompaniments
Yesterday was the National Day of Ceviche in Peru! In honor of this special recognition, I thought I would spread a little ceviche love here.
My father was born in Chimbote, a northern port town in Peru. It is known for its fish and the production of fish products. When I was young and my father would try to encourage me try any type of seafood, I would always refuse. His response would be, "You must love seafood. It's in your blood!" Not only was I also born on a coast (Boston), but when my mother was pregnant and visiting Peru to spend time with the family, she lived on ceviche. It was, and is, absolutely in my blood and my bones! I loved seafood today. All kinds.
Growing up in Boston, and spending time at my father's restaurant, I had many opportunities to try ceviche. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I tried it for the first time. It was then that I finally discovered the party in my mouth I had been missing! It is typical, at almost every one of my Peruvian family parties, that ceviche will be center stage. It doesn't matter the time of the year or the occasion. By the time I was in my 20s I was making it myself and grew fond of each of my family member's renditions of this beloved plate. Each person has their own style with varying levels of spice and flavor, different peppers used to make the leche de tigre, and ways of plating. It's a beautiful and colorful dish bursting with different textures and flavors. And, indeed, one of the national dishes of Peru.
Siwichi, cebiche, ceviche.
Ceviche sides: choclo, cancha, onions in leche de tigre
What is Peruvian-style ceviche? Made plain, ceviche is composed of small bite-sized chunks of raw white saltwater fish, marinated in lime juice, topped or mixed with thinly sliced red onion, chopped cilantro, and spicy peppers to taste. It is always served with boiled and spiced camote (sweet potato), choclo (Peruvian large kernel corn either on the cob or off), and cancha (toasted chullpi corn). It can also include shrimp or squid, known as ceviche mixto. It may also be served with boiled yuca. A Northern variation is the ceviche de conchas negras, made with black shell mollusks. Another form of serving ceviche, is to make a leche de tigre with it. Leche de tigre, which means "tiger's milk," is a concentrated dressing liquid made from certain components of the ceviche itself with some added aromatics and flavors.
The history of ceviche is interesting. Also, is it ceviche or cebiche? They are pronounced the same in Spanish but can be spelled either way. I will admit that as a young person I believed the dish came from Spain, as so many other dishes have, but I made a misinformed assumption about its origins. The word ceviche is actually thought to be derived from the Quechua word "siwichi," which means fresh or tender fish. When the conquistadors arrived they found the Incas were macerating fish in chicha de jora, or corn beer., marinating fish with the juice of the tumbo fruit (a cousin of the passion fruit), and on the coast adding salt and ají (chili peppers) to their seafood. As the dish had already begun evolving long before the Spanish arrived, when these new outsiders brought new ingredients, the dish evolved even further into what we now know as the contemporary Peruvian ceviche. Tumbo juice was swapped out for lime juice, onions added for crunch, and cilantro for color and flavor. Some chefs have even begun preparing ceviche in the ancient way with tumbo juice again and playing with other types sides to add a different crunch like fried plantain chips, called chifles. The options, today, are endless. On that note....
Ceviche in leche de tigre made with aji amarillo
What of the leche de tigre? The dressing juices of the ceviche have been said to having curing properties and can wake a body up from a rough night of partying. Historically, is was used as drink, a cure-all, an apéritif or a snack. More recently is has become a condiment to the ceviche, an added juice with more potency and intensity in flavor. When you finish eating the seafood, you never let that leche de tigre go to waste. Whether you drink it with a spoon or you grab the plate and slurp it up, that's some good stuff right there.
To prepare a great ceviche , a chef's preferred fish tends to be white fish for its smoother texture and appearance, like sole or the Corvina. Here in the Northeast U.S. you will find many enjoy the texture and color of tilapia but you can also use pollack or haddock and others. Any white fish with a slightly firmer flesh works wonderfully and can hold up to the acid of the lime juice, the tossing with other ingredients, and give you a wonderful bite.
Amigues, I'm going to leave with two recipes below. One for a classic ceviche and the other for a leche de tigre, both inspired by the Dia Nacional del Ceviche. Enjoy! Buen provecho!
Note: If you are interested in learning about a vegan option of ceviche, see our previous post on ceviche serrano.
Single serving ceviche
Ceviche Clásico - Serves 4 as an appetizer
2 pounds firm white fish (tilapia, haddock, pollack, halibut, flounder)
14 limes, juiced
8 sprigs of cilantro (leaves only), chopped*
2 medium sized red onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon garlic paste (or 3 cloves, smashed)
2 limo peppers (deveined, deseeded), finely sliced (can be found frozen)
Salt and pepper to taste
*save stems of cilantro for leche de tigre, if making.
2 sweet potatoes, boiled (with 1 stick cinnamon, 3 cloves and one orange halved with juice
1 cup cancha (chullpi corn), toasted
1 cup choclo (Peruvian corn can be found frozen and in kernels), cooked
4 small romaine lettuce leaves
Sarsa criolla (preparation below)
Cut fish into small bit-sized pieces and place in a bowl large enough to hold fish and other ingredients. If you have leftover irregular shaped pieces, you can save this to make leche de tigre (see recipe below).
Add salt, bit of pepper, and garlic paste and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes.
While fish is marinating, wash and rinse sliced red onions 3 times to rid it of its bitterness. Drain and rest.
Remove skin from boiled sweet potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch rounds.
For sarsa criolla: take a bit of the sliced onion and add salt to taste, lime juice, a bit of cilantro and limo peppers, Mix and let sit for plating.
Once all your components are ready, add enough lime juice to fish to just cover.
Add a couple of handfuls of sliced onion, a heaping tablespoon of cilantro, and sliced limo peppers to taste.
Mix ingredients together and adjust seasoning if necessary.
For plating you can serve in one large dish and allow people to serve themselves, you can serve individual plates, or you can even serve in a wine glass. Photos below, in their respective order.
Each plate should have the two types of corn and the sweet potato served with it or these can be served in individual dishes on the table as well. Use lettuce as a garnish to brighten up the composition.
When served in a glass, dice sweet potatoes up and place on top with a few kernels of choclo (corn).
Notes: American sweet corn can be used in place of choclo, if necessary or desired (as pictured earlier).
Leche de tigre - For 4 appetizers
1 filet of firm white fish or leftover pieces from ceviche preparation (~ 4-6 ounces)
8 cilantro stems (no leaves)
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 piece ginger (slightly smaller than a thumb), grated
3 garlic cloves
1 cup lime juice
1 cup fish stock
1 limo pepper, deveined and deseeded (unless you want more heat!)
For serving and decoration option:
1 cooked shrimp to cup the side of the glass (see photo above)
In a blender, add all the ingredients and blend until liquified.
Adjust seasoning of needed.
To use, take already marinated fish (from ceviche above) and place in the desired plate or glass. Pour leche de tigre over top and decorate with other sides. Done!
Any left over can be served in shot glasses as an apéritif.