The Mexican version of ceviche I enjoyed in Acapulco included an assortment of seafood along with avocado in a tomato/lime marinade. This traditional Mexican preparation is great, but it was the clean flavors of Peruvian ceviche at La Mar Cebicheria in San Francisco that made me a fan. This style of clean/fresh ceviche can also be found in modern Mexican eateries such as Nopalito in the Lower Haight and Inner Sunset neighborhoods of San Francisco.
A close friend and frequent dining companion considers ceviche the perfect food as it delivers protein while being light, fresh and low in fat. My friend’s enthusiasm for this dish along with my newfound fondness for the classic Peruvian version inspired this attempt at Peruvian Cebiche Clásico.
Ceviche is thought to have originated in Peru when Spanish Colonialist brought citrus to South America, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive version of its origin and history.
Popular throughout the coastal regions of Central and South America, ceviche consists of fresh fish cured with citrus juice. Additions can include chili, sliced onion and cilantro. In Peru, ceviche is served with sweet potatoes and large kernel Choclo corn, either integrated in the dish, or alongside.
The marinade used to cure or “cook” the fresh fish is called Leche de Tigre, or Tiger’s Milk. After curing the fish what remains of the marinade is often served in a small glass. Thought to be a hangover cure, we hedged our bets by fortifying the marinade with a little tequila.
In researching Peruvian Ceviche, I came across a recipe in Bon Appétit magazine’s online edition that was provided by Gastón Acurio of La Mar restaurants. The recipe is a great roadmap describing the preparation of a Peruvian Cebiche Clásico. This recipe adheres closely to Acurio’s guidance and with a few modifications produced great results.
The first decision was what kind of fish to use. Acurio recommends fluke, flounder or sole. Halibut would have been a great choice given those options, but what caught my eye at the San Francisco Fish Company was the filet of fresh, wild caught Rock Cod. Not actually related to true cod, Rock Cod, or Rockfish describes a variety of nearshore species that are a bit like grouper. The Rock Cod filets were fresh, firm textured and thick enough to slice into 1/2″ cubes. These proved to be a good choice. I am now a big fan of Rock Cod.
The second choice was what to do about the corn? Canned Choclo can be found in certain markets but none of these markets were on my shopping rotation when gathering ingredients for this dish. I did pick up some fresh, sweet white corn and intended to use this in the ceviche. The answer came to me while standing in the liquor store where there was a package of “corn nuts” on display that seemed perfect for the dish.
The last decision was how long to marinate the fish before serving. Modern Peruvian Cebiche preparation has been influenced by immigrant Japanese preparations of sashimi. The result is quicker “cooking” times than were used in the past. Acurio states in his recipe that ceviche is done in the time it takes to carry the dish to the table. This contradicts older thinking that ceviche should marinate for an hour or more.
There is a great article on the Serious Eats blog about “Ceviche and the Science of Marinades” that examines different times for marinating ceviche. Serious Eats likes their fish marinated for about 15 minutes which results in textural changes to the exterior of the fish and a sashimi like interior. We marinated ours for about 10 minutes, but it sat on the plate for a while to be photographed. It was excellent and, like the Serious Eats article was like sashimi inside.
There was some leftover fish that we tried after it continued to marinate for 30 to 45 minutes. It was even better than the shorter cure time we enjoyed initially. In the future I plan on marinating the fish for between 20 and 30 minutes before serving.
Leche de Tigre (based on Acurio’s recipe)
- 2/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- ½ habanero chili very finely minced
- 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
- ¼ red onion finely minced
- 1 tablespoon of finely minced cilantro leaves
- 1 pound Rock Cod, or other firm white fish, sliced into ½” strips, or cubes
- ½ habanero very finely minced
- ¼ red onion thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon of cilantro leaves chopped
- 1 small handful of corn nuts
- Salt to taste
- For the Leche de Tigre, combine all the listed ingredients in a small bowl, stir and then place in the refrigerator until ready for use.
- Combine the fish with all of the ceviche ingredients in a bowl. Add the Leche de Tigre. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.