It’s another hot and humid summer in the Lowcountry, which brings us to the perfect time to push pause on hearty seafood chowders and try something that will literally cool you off: chilled ceviche.
Ceviche is a South American seafood dish typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices. The name originates from the Quechuan word “siwichi,” which means “fresh” or “tender fish.”
The origination story is unknown, with one theory being the practice of curing fish with vinegar or citrus coming from Moorish-era Spanish cuisine. A competing theory points to archeological records suggesting something similar to ceviche in western South America as far back as 2,000 years.
Whichever is true, the dish became very popular and spread throughout the hemisphere, especially in coastal areas where fresh fish is more abundant. And here we are today, serving it as a delightful summer dish with fresh fish caught in our Lowcountry waters.
My first experience with this citrusy concoction was in the Bahamas while fishing with a friend. Our local guide pulled a conch straight out of the water, threw it in a bag with some juice, and cured it for a while. What came out of that bag was phenomenal.
My wife and I often travel to Costa Rica, and we always buy ceviche on the beach, sold by locals on bicycles who sell it fresh out of a cooler. I’ve since learned how to prepare it at home, using a “secret tip” from a Jamaican man I met in culinary school – cinnamon!
A beautiful presentation and the concept of “cooking” without heat might make it seem like an exotic dish. Thankfully, preparing ceviche is quite easy. If you can chop, dice, juice and stir, you can make ceviche. And once you do, you’re going to want to make it all summer long!
Ceviche is often served as an appetizer with plantain or tortilla chips, and it pairs well with a light white wine, sparkling rosé or a margarita. The variations are endless, and we’ll get to that.
First, here’s a basic recipe to get you started:
1 lb. white fish (raw filet, skin off) – sea bass, snapper or flounder are excellent local choices
1 medium red or white onion, finely diced
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 large orange
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the fish into 1/4” cubes and place into a mixing bowl
2. Stir in onion, cilantro, tomatoes, cinnamon, salt and pepper
3. Juice the lemons, limes and orange (removing seeds) into the bowl and stir
4. Be sure juice covers the fish, then cover and refrigerate
5. Stir every 30 minutes for 90 minutes, then let sit covered in refrigerator for four hours
If you want to venture out from local sea bass, snapper or flounder, you can make ceviche with shrimp, scallops, octopus, or any meaty white fish like cod or mahi-mahi.
Ceviche gives you the opportunity to experiment. You can spice it up with diced jalapeno or other chilies, bell peppers add freshness, celery adds cool crunch, and avocado adds creaminess. If you don’t like cilantro, try Italian parsley. You can add cumin or vary the citrus juice combination.
Discover how easy it is to make ceviche, and let us know which variation is your favorite.
Charles J. Russo III is the owner of Russo’s Fresh Seafood Bluffton. russosfreshseafood.com