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If You Can’t Take the Heat, Just Make Ceviche

Ceviche. Credit: Sue Style

Ceviche. Credit: Sue Style

When summer comes, the temperature soars and if the very thought of cooking makes you break out in a sweat, it’s time for ceviche. This marinated fish salad is claimed by many Latin American countries, notably Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. But for me, ceviche’s heart belongs to Mexico, for no better reason than this is where I first met it and fell hard for its cool, sharp-sweet flavors (lime juice, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce), its soft-crunchy textures (oily fish, diced chili and scallion) and its patriotic red-white-and-green Mexican colors (fish, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro).

In Mexico, the fish most often used is sierra, from the mackerel family. While you can use almost any fresh fish filets for ceviche, mackerel gives the most authentic results. It’s generally inexpensive, plentiful and — a bonus here — rich in Omega-3 oils. (I’ve also made ceviche with salmon, which works fine, too.)

Good ceviche starts with fresh fish

The key is the fish should be sparkling fresh. How to tell? Mackerel, being an oily fish, spoils faster than leaner specimens, so let your nose be your guide: It should smell of nothing but the sea.

Then the color: The belly is silver-gray and the back brilliantly striped with bluish-black. When the fish is straight out of the water, its iridescent blue-black-green stripey bits are just like the rainbow hologram on a credit card; if the colors are dull and faded, the fish is less than fresh.

Besides the fish — cut into neat filets and divested of as much of that beautiful skin as possible — you need a plentiful supply of juicy limes. The fish is not cooked in the conventional sense of the word, but the citric acid in the limes denatures the protein and “cooks” the fish without heat. You can tell it’s done when the flesh has turned from a dull, grayish color to a whiter shade of pale and becomes opaque, no longer translucent.

Mackerel. Credit: Sue Style

Mackerel. Credit: Sue Style

What you add to your ceviche thereafter can vary quite a bit, but tomatoes, cilantro, chopped onion or scallions and some spice in the form of Worcestershire sauce and/or fresh chili are all obligatory. Some (myself included) add a smidgen of tomato ketchup, which adds a nice sweet note, while others add oregano as well as cilantro.

If the weather has turned warm and you’re lucky enough to find mackerel in your store or fish market — better still, if the fisherman/woman in your family comes home with a net brimming with these beautiful creatures — think ceviche. Here’s how.


Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer


For the ceviche:

4 fresh mackerel, filleted (8 filets, to give about 1 pound when trimmed and skinned)

Juice of 3 limes

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons ketchup

A generous splash of Worcestershire sauce

2 scallions or 1 small onion

1-2 fresh green chilis (such as  jalapeños)

3 medium tomatoes

Plenty of chopped cilantro

A pinch of dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 avocado

For garnish and serving:

12 green olives, pitted

Tortilla chips or crackers to serve


1. Slide a very sharp knife between the flesh and skin to remove as much skin as possible from the filets.

2. Remove any extraneous bones and cut the flesh in ½-inch cubes.

3. Put fish cubes in a bowl and cover with lime juice. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or until the flesh turns opaque.

4. Tip the fish into a strainer held over a bowl

5. Stir the olive oil, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce vigorously into the strained marinade, whisking well for a vinaigrette until emulsified.

6. Put the fish back into this dressing.

7. Chop the scallions or onion very finely and add to the fish.

8. Cut chilis in half lengthwise, scrape out seeds, chop finely and add to the fish.

9. Remove cores from tomatoes but do not peel, then cut into small cubes and add to the fish.

10. Stir in the chopped cilantro and oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper.

11. Cut avocado in quarters, strip away skin and cut in cubes the same size as the fish.

12. Stir avocado cubes into the fish — do this gently so as not to bruise the avocado.

13. Refrigerate the ceviche till well chilled.

14. Serve in glasses or on a plate cupped inside a lettuce leaf, and garnish with olives.

15. Serve tortilla chips or salty crackers separately.

Top photo: Ceviche. Credit: Sue Style

Zester Daily contributor Sue Style lived in Mexico for seven years and is the author of “The Mexican Cookbook.” She’s now based in Alsace, France, where she writes for various publications and for

Zester Daily contributor Sue Style lives in Alsace, France, close to the German and Swiss borders. She's the author of nine books on subjects ranging from Mexican food to the food and wines of Alsace and Switzerland. Her most recent, published in October 2011, is "Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture." Her website is

  • Scott Nielsen 7·3·13

    Pickapeppa sauce works great for this as a substitute for ketchup.

  • Tito Olazabal 7·3·13

    Ceviche is originally from Peru and its basic preparation includes only 5 ingredients: fish (I.e lenguado – flounder), aji amarillo, onion, salt and lemon juice. Of course, on top of these ingredients, you can add anything you like. Ceviche is the japanese influence on the peruvian cuisine in the early 1900’s.

  • enter nameSue Style 7·4·13

    Not [yet] met pickapeppa sauce, Scott, but sounds like it could be great with ceviche – sweet-spicy?

  • Sue Style 7·4·13

    You’re right, Tito, Peru definitely has the best claim to ceviche, and I think it may be a lot older than the early 1900s – some say it even pre-dates the Spanish Conquest in some form, with the [now obligatory] citrus coming in only with the arrival of the Spaniards, who introduced the fruit to the Americas. D’you use lenguado (which is sole, btw, not flounder) for your ceviche? Provecho!

  • Tito Olazabal 10·14·13

    Hi Sue, yes, I do use Flounder or any other fresh fish adequate for ceviche. Telapia, halibut, mahi-mahi among others. You know, lenguado is also flounder in Spanish. And so is sole 🙂
    Ceviche preparation before the Spanish arrival was prepared by the Incas using the juice of the corn, chicha (corn beer). After their arrival then the lemon and onions played their roll in it. In the 1900 with the Japanese influence, Tiradito was created. This is the sashimi style. This type of ceviche doesn’t include onions.

    Good writing with you, Sue.
    Take care

  • Sue Style 10·16·13

    oh dear, the hazards of translating fish from one language to another! Next week I’ll give a workshop focusing entirely on fish, and one of the handouts is an inventory of names in English, French and German but not Spanish. For that I’d need your help! And what’s tiradito btw?

  • Tito Olazabal 10·30·13

    Hello Sue,
    I found this about “tiradito”:
    Derived from the word tirar, which means “to throw,” tiradito is the Peruvian cousin to crudo, sashimi, and ceviche. This raw seafood dish can be executed with a wide variety of fresh catch, from white-fleshed fish to shellfish and even octopus. Seafood is prepared in wafer-thin slices, and dressed cold with a light marinade that typically includes lime juice, and may also include olive oil, ginger, and various ají peppers. Unlike ceviches, tiraditos don’t typically contain onions.


  • Sue Style 10·31·13

    The plot thickens! Love the sound of tiradito. Time I got myself to Lima…is this where you are?

  • Tito Olazabal 11·3·13

    Lol No Sue, I’m in Fresno California (and no tiraditos around here 🙁 ).