Number 5 in our countdown in the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though this dish alone could have seven fishes in it! Ceviché, cebiche, escabeche and similar terms refer to a seafood salad made with mostly or entirely raw seafood pickled in lime juice. It is typically served as a first course, the acid and spice jump-starting digestion.
As with many food terms the etymology is disputed. I prefer to accept that the term derives from siwichi, the Quechua name for the dish. After all, it most likely originated in the Andes where this language predominates.
Years back I was dining in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Dinner was at a Peruvian restaurant named Machu Picchu. It was one of those dinners that you never forget – it forms an immovable stepping stone in your life experience.
There they served three versions of the dish. Opting for the ‘mixto’ I was served a heaping portion of spicy, citrusy wonderfulness with sea bass, octopus, and probably abalone. The traditional piquancy in this dish comes from the ají amarillo chili and tiny sour limes called limónes verdes, or more commonly, simply limónes. Many dictionaries will tell you this term means ‘lemon,’ but in South America is refers to a tart green fruit that looks a Key lime, but is tart as a lemon. I’ll provide you with an alternative on case you can’t find true limónes.
Alas, unable to find several of the traditional ingredients I have persevered to create a recipe with available foods that I think captures the delight of this dish.
I am also not immune to the idea the certain foods, like abalone, and to a lesser degree octopus, are not sustainable seafood products. You can check out recommendations from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
Ingredients for 4 Servings
- 2 pounds of fresh seafood (not counting shell weight), could include: firm white sea fish, salmon, shrimp, calamari, octopus, scallops, or other bivalves such as mussels or clams
- juice of 12 limónes verdes, or substitute, as follows:
- juice of 2 regular limes
- juice of 1 lemon
- juice of 1 Valencia orange
- 4 ají amarillo chilis, substitute 2 habaneros
- 4 serrano chilis, or add more!
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, slivered into very thin rings
- salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 avocado, sliced
- leaf lettuce or shredded cabbage garnish
You will improve the texture of the dish by par-cooking the shellfish or octopus. For sea scallops (the large ones), heat in butter for 2 minutes per side, remove, cool, and quarter. For clams or mussels, steam in their shell for 4 minutes, cool and shell them. For octopus, poach in boiling water until firm and opaque, about 2 minutes. For salmon or white fish, such as sea bass, swordfish, shark, or red snapper, simply check for bones and dice raw. Cut any par-cooked items into similar sized dice, except for mussels or clams, which you will keep whole. Keep cool while preparing the dressing.
Make the dressing by squeezing juice from the fruit and removing any seeds. Toss in the chilis, finely chopped, the garlic and the onion. Allow to meld for a minute, then taste for piquancy. Add a little salt and cayenne, stir, then try again until dressing borders on being too salty and too hot for your taste. This will be just right once the fish is added.
When you are about 15-20 minutes from serving the dish, combine the seafood with the dressing. Add the chopped cilantro and toss gently to coat everything. Keep cool until plating in a wide glass or a plate. Slice the avocado and dredge in the remaining dressing. Place lettuce and avocado around salad. Dig in! A dish like this will go well with a cold pilsner that has some hop character, including Tecate or Heineken, Singha, or your go-to German pils. You might also try the national cocktail of Peru, the Pisco Sour. ¡Salud¡ TPJ
- No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
- No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
- No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
- No. 4 – Fried Smelts – providing I can find them (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
Thanks for following along – more soon. TPJ