The origins of the dish as well as the etymology of the name remain a mystery. There are various theories (HERE), and the disputes as to which is best will continue until humans are no longer competitive. The rivalry between Ecuador and Peru is famous, and Peru has made ceviche a national treasure. The truth is that I don’t really care. None of the theories above includes the far East (western arrogance perhaps?), and the thought that since time immemorial, coastal people have wanted to prepare, and preserve food in interesting and creative ways seems obvious to me. The Peruvians say one MUST use Corvina (Bass) or that in Ecuador, shrimp is de rigeur, and that they are the true ceviche, is ridiculous. You use the freshest fish you catch or buy. You use what you have. You can make ceviche out of any fish. The Japanese have a delicacy that is very hard to get in the US. In fact, I have only had it in one restaurant, and they do not serve it anymore because they got too busy and could no longer source the item safely. They take an UME paste (salted plums in vinegar), some shiso leaves and marinate the small tenderloin of the raw chicken breast. The tenderloin is that little piece beneath the breast that looks like a small minnow and detaches easily; it has a small tendon that should be removed. Their chickens came from a specific farm in upstate New York, were organic, and clean. Sounds crazy? It is one of the best things I have ever eaten. But as usual, I digress…
Ceviche is a wonderful dish, easy to prepare, and fun to serve with friends. It goes well with champagne, a muscadet, beer, rum and tonic, whatever. Part of the fun is to find interesting things to serve it with. I like to have various things for people to try. Tostada chips whole and unflavored, either homemade or bought (never the bag ones cut into little triangles). I take cucumber rounds, sweet potato discs steamed and served cold, sesame crackers, saltines, papadum, papaya chunks…whatever…the key is the freshness of the fish; the limit is your imagination. I consider myself very lucky. I live not too far from the best seafood shop in New York. COR-J Seafood Corp, on Lighthouse Road in Hampton Bays. It is right across from the Coast Guard station just before you cross the Ponquogue bridge to the spit of land on the ocean. The shop is run by a family, and I have become friends with Danny, son of the founder. He is always friendly and welcoming. If you go, tell him Sushi Tim sent you. All the people working there take pride in knowing the fish, and making sure you get what you need. They supply most of the restaurants in the area too. I call ahead to let him know I am coming and to ask what has just come in from the boats. I only buy local caught, and generally select the smaller fish. Reading about the amount of mercury levels in the bigger fish scares me a little, and that the larger fish, like the yellow fin tuna, will be extinct at our present rate of over fishing (DON”T GET ME STARTED)…blah blah blah…insert soap box here. If you can’t get to COR-J, find a fishmonger you trust, and tell them what you want to do. They will steer you right.
Anyway, the smaller fish are for me. Right now, squid are running, black bass, porgies, bonito, fluke, flounder, striped bass…are plentiful and cheap-ish. The stripe bass is very expensive so I use it sparingly. Today, I got some porgy, squid, striped bass, and black bass. I had some clams left over from clamming the day before….so I was all set.
The procedure for making ceviche is simple. Take the fish, cut it into edible pieces, I prefer cubes about the size of a small die; it looks prettier. I sometimes add tomato concasse, red onions for color, jalapeno peppers seeded or not, Thai chile or Habanero peppers, salt, black pepper, and lime juice. I had no tomatoes so I used cucumbers cut into a small brunoise. For the squid legs, if you object to the sliminess, put them in a colander and pour some boiling water from a kettle over them. Rinse under cold water to cool immediately. They are just slightly cooked and the reddish tinge is accented. Another trick to cut the excess acid of the lime is to squeeze the juice from a half an orange into the mix. I have even added grated carrot for color; It adds a sweetness too. There is a smoky Mexican sauce called Valentina that is a great accompaniment. Get the spicy one with the black label.
Mix all the ingredients in a glass, wooden, or stainless steel bowl (no aluminum — the acid reacts badly), and let the party get started. It can marinate for five minutes, a half hour, or overnight. It changes slightly, but it is all good. Oh, be careful when dealing with the chiles…don’t rub your eyes or any other parts of your body. You will be sorry.
I used the leftovers the next day, mixed with brown rice, and a little mayonnaise, stuffed into squid and grilled. There usually aren’t leftovers though…