Nothing spells Florida like Ceviche! This post is totally inspired by another blogger, a great and knowledgeable Odedi from Odedi’s Wine Review, who kept mentioning this and that wine with tuna ceviche. It finally got to the point where I said that there was no such thing and promised to prove it. It’s not my fault – Odedi, you made me do it!
This is our little island, Miami Beach. Under each awning there is a restaurant that serves ceviche, and each one claims that it’s the only true ceviche, and everything else isn’t. So sure, go ahead with your tuna, you are no different from Ocean Drive restaurateurs! Incidentally, you are looking at News Cafe, of tragic Gianni Versace assassination notoriety. That does not stop hordes of tourists from sampling Florida cuisine, and no one is better to speak of Florida cuisine than the two famed chefs, Norman Van Aken and Allen Susser.
Norman Van Aken disputes the Peruvian origin of ceviche which seems to be a common belief. One of the Floridian legends – and we have many! – is that it was invented by the Incas who marinated their fresh catch in tumbo (or tombo) fruit juice and sent it up to the Emperor’s castle that was high up in the mountains. Tumbo is a kind of passion fruit which is not as sour as a citrus, but citruses were unknown in South America at that time. Freshly marinated raw fish was delivered by relays of runners, each of whom, I am sure, would be a successful Olympic Games competitor, to keep the fish from spoiling.
Maybe not so, says Chef Van Aken (www.foodrepublic.com). Maybe Peruvians got it from the Polynesians who came to pre-Columbian Peru from their Pacific island homes where they’d had marinated raw fish all along. Yet another food scholar, Juan José Vega, claims that Moorish slaves, brought to the New World by the Spanish conquistadores, carried North African lemons with them, planted them, and started marinating both fish and meat in lemon juice. The new technique was called Sey-vech, thus ceviche was born. Regardless, at this point in time, ceviche is firmly entrenched in everybody’s minds as a gem of Latin cuisine, with every country proudly proclaiming a “classic ceviche” recipe.
The classic Colombian recipe, preferred by Chef Allen, as he is fondly called by thousands of his fans, uses red snapper. He explains that it holds the shape well which is important not only for the visual appeal, but also to marinate evenly (www.foodandwine.com). I follow his opinion, so I had to wait until my husband got me a red snapper.
Do you see the teeth on this guy? I thought he brought me a piranha! But no, it’s a genuine hog snapper, and there is actually a popular chain of ceviche and sushi restaurants by that name in South Florida. The restaurants are not kosher, unfortunately, but the fish is. My husband cleaned, skinned and boned, and filleted it for me. With a huge head like this, all I got out of an almost two-pound fish was about half a pound of ceviche material. The rest went into a pot to become Ukha – Russian Fisherman Soup (please click here).
Beautiful white firm flesh with pink spots that gave it the name Red Snapper. Contrary to the classic Colombian recipe, the original Peruvian recipe calls for corvina; unfortunately, corvina is a Pacific Ocean fish who doesn’t come visiting our waters. Granted, you can sometimes find it in the stores, delivered from the other side of the U.S., but I believe in ceviche that has barely stopped swimming a moment ago!
Just like Chef Allen says, you cut it into uniform bite-size pieces. I don’t know how large your bite is, but I follow Chef Allen’s model ceviche that he made for my friend and colleague’s daughter’s Bas Mitzvah – ah, almost 20 years ago! Chef Allen Susser is not a kosher chef, but for his former professor (my colleague), he went out of his way, under proper supervision.
From this point on, you are mainly on your own, Beautiful People – use your imagination! I like a little crunch, so I toss in a few corn kernels. I want to enhance it with some colors, so I use sweet pepper confetti. You should feel free to use any additions and enhancements you like, as long as they don’t overwhelm the flavor of fish itself. I do not use any kinds of hot pepper because of our own dietary restrictions, but a real ceviche should have some, so you can dice some jalapeno or chili peppers, or simply sprinkle it with red pepper flakes.
Ceviche cooks in lime juice. Some recipes temper the sharpness of lime with lemon juice, but that’s up to you. I use pure fresh-squeezed lime juice and save some lime slices both for garnishing and just in case someone might want to add some more juice once it’s on his plate. Lime juice is added after all the ingredients, not before!
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and/or red pepper flakes, if you like it hot. Mix it well, to make sure fish bites are uniformly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. If you have time to marinate it a little longer, the marinade will penetrate better, and the flavors will blend to create a more complex taste.
Just as I was about to post this recipe, I got the latest addition of Miami New Times with a food review featuring Chef Fernando Chang and his restaurant 26 Sushi and Tapas. Chef Fernando is a prominent kosher chef in South Florida. The review features some new additions to his menu, among them – surprise! – Tuna Ceviche (to read the entire review, please click here). I don’t think I’ll use rocoto, lovingly called “fire in the mouth” by the Peruvians, in my kimchee any time soon, but I am tempted to combine it with tuna and radishes and see what happens!
Meanwhile, my ceviche is ready, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro. It is not as spectacular as Chef Fernando’s who has presented it on a palm leaf and always remembered to hold the hot peppers when making it for me.
P.S. That’s a Cantina Gabriele Pinot Grigio 2014 we are having with it – light, crisp, refreshing, and delicious!
- 1/2 lb fresh salt water fish, boneless and skinless (preferably red snapper but any firm-flesh white fish will do)
- 1 tablespoon corn kernels
- 1 tablespoon fresh sweet pepper confetti
- Juice of 1/2 lime, and more lime for garnishing
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh chopped cilantro to garnish
- Optional diced hot peppers of your choice and/or red pepper flakes to season
- Cut fish into uniform bite-size pieces. Add corn kernels.
- To make pepper confetti, dice a few sweet peppers of different colors. Add one tablespoon to ceviche, freeze the rest.
- Add lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 20 – 30 minutes. Mix again before serving.
- Slice remaining lime to garnish, sprinkle fresh cilantro to garnish.