Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Ceviche (or cebiche, seviche, sebiche) is an appetizer dish very popular in the Pacific-coast countries of South America.
Made from raw fish and/or seafood and/or other uncooked ingredients marinated in a citric bath of lime and lemon juice, shaved red onion, cilantro, salt and spices, it is a staple on the tables of Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and most of the MesoAmerican countries. Each country has its own variation on the theme, the difference being the spiciness, the length of time the fish or seafood is allowed to marinate and the ingredients included in the basic recipe. The marinating time can vary from just a few minutes – as when hangover suffering Chile˝os congregate at 4 o’clock in the morning at seafood stalls in Santiago’s Mercado Central – to 4 or 5 hours, as chefs in Ecuador and Peru prepare their appetizers.
Shrimp, calamari and octopus are steamed for 30 seconds, prior to cooling with ice then adding to the marinade. The shrimp is peeled and deveined prior to steaming and the heads and shells are used to make shrimp broth to cook rice.
In my peregrinations up and down South America’s western coast, I have tasted many ceviches. I like very much the ones I had in Ecuador, as they use shrimp, octopus and squid as their seafood base, in a very mild lime, diced tomato and tomato-juice sauce. In Ecuador, I also tasted a ceviche made from large kernels of white corn (mote) accompanied by corn nuts and fried green plantains. In Chile, they use merluza (hake), locos (abalone), star crab, or a blend of freshly shucked clams, mussels and sea urchin eggs (the traditional aforementioned hangover remedy). In Mexico, I had a very spicy ceviche with a very small tomato and cucumber dice, fish, plus sliced green serrano peppers and red pepper flakes mixed in the marinade. And in Costa Rica, fresh hearts of palm and a super spicy pepper sauce are part of the recipe.
In Peru, they use lots of garlic and very spicy chili peppers, both fresh green and dried red, to spice the marinade, while the main ingredient is also mainly mixed seafood, with fish being secondary. An interesting specialty in the northern coast of Peru is ceviche prepared from shark (tollo or tojo).
Leche de tigre (tiger milk) -- the ceviche marinade -- is often served in a small glass to accompany the ceviche. Brightly colored from the spicy chili peppers and sometimes mixed with Pisco (Peru’s and Chile’s white lightning) leche de tigre is considered a great cure for hangovers by most South American cultures.
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