Let the lime juice and salt do the magic…
‘Cook’ (verb) – to prepare (food) by the use of heat, as by boiling, baking, or roasting. That’s the definition I got from Thesaurus. But do you know that you can actually also cook fish with just lime juice and salt? Yes you can, and the Peruvians have been cooking fish with this method for thousands of years and it is called Ceviche.
Ceviche (pronounce “say-vee-chay“) is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Latin America and the Carribean, particularly in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and of course, Peru where this dish is originated (according to historians and chefs), some 2000 years ago. In Peru, ceviche is like the national dish, it has been declared as “national heritage” and they even celebrate National Ceviche Day on the 28th June every year. The classic Peruvian ceviche is composed of chunks of raw fish, cured in salt and lime juice, then tossed together with onion slices and chilli. Typically the ceviche is eaten as lunch with cooked corn kernels and sweet potato. I love this dish a lot, it is refreshing, delicious and healthy, and it is super easy to prepare because you don’t even have to turn the stove on and just let the lime juice to do the cooking for you. Technically, we are not really ‘cooking’ the fish, but rather let the acidic lime juice to marinate and cure the fish slowly.
There are a few important key points on how to make a good ceviche. First, use the freshest seafood as possibly can. Most chefs in Peru will source their fish from the market early in the morning and prepare them on the same day ready for lunch service. That’s why the locals will normally eat ceviche for lunch and not dinner. Another important key point to make a mean ceviche is the marinade, commonly known as ‘Leche de Tigre‘, it means Tiger’s Milk. The tiger’s milk should be a nicely balanced citrus-based marinade of lime juice, salt, sliced onion and aji (Peruvian yellow chilli). It should be acidic enough to cure the fish yet not too sour until you wrinkle your nose. Also, adjust the heat level accordingly from the Aji chilli, as you do not want it to be too hot to the point you can’t even taste the fish anymore.
In Peru, a type of saltwater fish called Corvina or sea bass are commonly used for ceviche. In Mexico, red snapper is the traditional choice for this dish. Any firm white fleshed fish such as barramundi, blue eye trevally or ling fish will work for this recipe. Try not to use any oily fish like tuna or mackerel as the dominant fishy flavour will be too overpowering.
450g firm-fleshed white fish (red snapper, barramundi or ling fish), cut into 1.5cm chunks
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra
1 sweet potato, peeled, steamed then quartered
1 sweet corn, steamed then removed kernels from core.
Leche de Tigre
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon coriander leaves and stalks, finely chopped
1/2 aji amarillo (or habanero), seeded and finely chopped, plus extra (thinly sliced) for garnish
1. Prepare the dish only when ready to serve. Place fish in a large mixing bowl. Add salt and keep stirring for a minute. Add lime juice, stir occasionally, and let the fish marinate for 3 minutes. Add red onion, coriander and Aji Amarillo, stir occasionally and let the fish marinate for further 2 minutes. Do not marinate more than 10 minutes. You will know the fish is ready when the flesh starts turning opaque. Now have a taste of the tiger’s milk, and adjust flavours accordingly with bit more salt, chilli or lime juice.
2. Divide ceviche into 4 equal portions on serving plates, serve with sweet potato and corn kernels on the side. Garnish with more coriander and onion slices and a slice of chilli on top. Serve immediately.