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.
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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.
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
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 suestyle.com.