Showing posts with label ceviche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ceviche. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ceviche - As it should be

Many a thing is called ceviche out in the world of restaurants. Some add tomatoes or avocado or mango or other abominations. I’ve even seen grapes! This dish is made exactly as I remember it from my childhood time spent in northern Peru, with fresh seafood, fresh lime juice, purple onions, cilantro, salt and chili peppers. That’s it. And boiled yucca on the side. 

About a year after my parents divorced, my father moved from Venezuela where we had all been living together, to a small oilfield company town in northern Peru called Negritos. If you’ve been in the mountains and the rain forests of Peru but never ventured to the northwestern coast, you might be surprised to find sand dunes to rival those in my current home, the United Arab Emirates. Negritos is set near the most western point of mainland South America, Punta PariƱas, with a beautiful coast in front and a massive desert at its back. I spent every summer there for several years, until Daddy moved again.

I don’t know that it was much of a place for being an adult but it was heaven for a child. I’d take off for hours, exploring rocks and sand dunes and crevasses, finding shells and fossils, building forts with the neighbor kids and “tightrope” walking on the pipes between the enormous town water tank and, well, town. (Shhhh! Don’t tell my father – the pipeline was strictly off limits.) My older sister and I shared a little blue Honda 70 motorbike and sometimes I’d ride the dunes on it, but most days, exploration was on foot and I’d often carry pen and paper, in case inspiration struck and I needed to write something down. I was deep into my Harriet the Spy phase then. Returning home, I’d drive my stepmother to distraction by taking off my shoes and socks and making two little piles on my bedroom floor with the sand that had accumulated in them. It was fun to see how big the piles were some days, as if it told me how far I had walked somehow. In retrospect, I must have been a strange child.

A big treat - I’m telling you it was a small town! – was to go to the small airport in the next town over and eat in the restaurant there. I’ll let you absorb that. We went to the airport just to eat. Watching the planes take off and land was a bonus. I always, and I mean always, without fail, ordered the shrimp ceviche. It was perfect. A healthy plateful of shrimp, swimming in lime juice with lots of sliced onions and just enough chili. The resulting liquid is called leche de tigre or tiger’s milk and when all the shrimp were gone, I’d sip it with a spoon and nibble on the boiled yucca that was always served alongside.

My father’s company also had a very rustic, open plan brick house on a beautiful beach called Punta Sal, which we were able to use on weekends and holidays. It was even farther north, in fact, about halfway to the Ecuadorian border. There we’d make our own ceviche, with fresh grouper hooked from the water by a local fisherman called Polo. Burnished and wizen by too many years in the fierce sun, Polo lived in a makeshift shanty right on Punta Sal and made his living fishing off of a raft of old logs bound together by frayed rope and luck. He'd come door-to-door with his daily catch and often let the more adventurous boys (my husband among them) "help" him fish.

When I eat this ceviche and I close my eyes, I can hear the waves crashing, smell the sea breeze and feel the dried crusty salt left behind by the water, tight on my sunburned skin. Hope you do too. (Sometimes I even smell jet fuel, but that one's probably just me.)

6 -7 limes or more if yours aren’t very juicy. You need about 1 cup or 240ml juice.
13 oz or 370g fresh firm white flesh fish – I used Hammour or local grouper
1 large purple onion (about 3 1/2 oz or 100g, before peeling)
1 teaspoon flakey sea salt or to taste, plus more for boiling the shrimp
1 large bunch cilantro or coriander leaves (About 1 3/4 oz or 50g)
1-2 hot red chili peppers (I used two!)
12 1/3 oz or 350g fresh shrimp, already cleaned and deveined

To serve: The traditional accompaniment to a bowl of ceviche is yucca, boiled till tender in lightly salted water. Try to get your hands on some – it’s called different things in a variety of countries: Manioc, cassava, mogo, manioc and aipim, just to name a few. Peel it and wash it well before boiling. Once boiled, split it down the middle and pull out the fibrous threads before serving. Its flavor is somewhere between a potato and a parsnip and the mild taste and starchiness counterbalances the acidic, spicy ceviche.

Juice your limes and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Glass does nicely.

Remove all the bones and cut your fish up into bite-sized pieces. I use jewelry pliers to get the pin bones out.

Immerse the fish in the lime juice and stir well.

Wash the cilantro thoroughly with cold water. Sometimes it takes more than one rinse to get rid of all the dirt but it’s worth taking the time to make sure it’s completely grit free. Spin the cilantro dry in a salad spinner or tied up in a dish towel. You can discard the stems but as long as they aren’t really thick and hard, I like to mince them very finely and use them. Chop the leaves roughly and set aside.

Slice your onions as thinly as you can manage and mince your red chilies.

Add the onions and the chilies to the fish along with the sea salt. Give everything a good stir and use your spoon, preferably a wooden one, to poke the pieces of fish back into a single layer under the lime juice.

Pile your chopped cilantro on top of everything but don’t stir yet. Just let it all hang out.

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add a little salt, just as you would do for boiling pasta.

Add the shrimp to the pot and turn the heat off. Put a lid on the pot and set a timer for about three minutes. This parboils the shrimp but they will finish "cooking" in the lime juice.

When the time rings, remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon. Let them cool slightly and then add them to the bowl with the fish.

Now you can give it a good stir. Poke the bits of fish back under the lime juice.

Cover the whole bowl with cling film and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for several hours or until the fish is completely opaque and “cooked” by the lime juice. I left mine overnight because it was going sailing with us the next day. If you are traveling with ceviche, make sure to keep it on ice until you are ready to serve it.

Serve with boiled yucca for a traditional treat. (See note with the ingredients list above.)