Mexican Ceviche

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PHOTOS: CATHY AND JO REED
LEFT: Ingredients for the basic Mexican ceviche dish. RIGHT: A completed ceviche ready for serving.

I was introduced to Mexican ceviche (it’s pronounced
“say-vee-chay”) while on a scuba diving expedition off the
Caribbean coast of Mexico. We were out at sea on a Mexican
fishing boat and–when a member of our party speared a
large mackerel–the capitán hastened to prepare a
lunch.

Using a very sharp knife, he skinned and filleted the fish,
chopped it into chunks, placed the pieces in a bowl, and
squeezed a number of little limes over them. Then he
produced tomatoes, onions, “chiles” (actually hot
jalapeño peppers), and a bunch of fresh
cilantro (a popular Mexican herb, not unlike
coriander or parsley). These, too, were chopped up and
added to the fish … along with salt, pepper, and olive
oil.

We took off our scuba gear and sat down to a memorable meal
of ceviche and crackers.

The captain’s recipe is standard all over Mexico and
remains my favorite … just as mackerel is still my
preferred fish for the dish. However, the possible
variations on the basic formula are endless … and every
ceviche fan seems to have his or her own special version,
each one as tasty as the next.

Actually, any white fish–either fresh or
saltwater–can be used. Traditionally, Mexicans prefer
“fatty” seafood, such as mackerel and pompano. Some cooks,
though, like the more delicate sole, while others go for
striped bass or red snapper. But–no matter what kind
of finny creature you choose–ceviche is always at its
best when the fish is freshly caught.

Once your main ingredient is in hand … skin the fish,
fillet it, and cut it into chunks. (Though some cooks use
large pieces, I prefer small cubes of half an inch or
less.) Like the capitan, I happen to especially favor the
tanginess of lime juice as a marinade, but you may also try
lemon juice … half lime and half lemon … or a mixture
of lime, lemon, and orange. But here again, use only
freshly squeezed juice, as the bottled kind is simply
inadequate for the job.

Ceviche recipes vary as to the suggested marinating
time–they run the gamut from 30 minutes to 12
hours–but I find half an hour to be plenty for any
kind of fresh fish. That’s because the fruit juice’s citric
acid “cooks” the fish (by the dish’s looks and taste, you’d
never know the meat was raw) and long marination softens it
too much … I enjoy fish with a firmer texture.

After the dish has marinated, you may either keep or drain
off the liquid, depending on whether you prefer “wet” or
“dry” ceviche. 

The Basic Recipe

Here’s how to make the type of ceviche that’s most often
served in Mexican restaurants … usually as an
appetizer: 

Cut 1 pound of white-fleshed fish into half-inch cubes and squeeze the juice of six limes over them. Set the dish aside, and–while it marinates–chop 1 Bermuda onion, 3 tomatoes, and 2 jalapeno peppers (they’re hot!) very fine. Add these–plus 1/4 cup of olive or salad oil, 4 tablespoons of fresh cilantro or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste–to the fish, and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Spicy Ceviche

For a tangy and piquant appetizer to be served with
crackers (it’s ideal for a margarita party!), prepare your
fish as usual and marinate it in lime juice. Meanwhile,
make this mixture:

Place 3 tomatoes, 2 Bermuda onions, 1 green pepper, and 2
jalapeno peppers–all chopped very fine–into a bowl.
Add 1/2 cup of halved green olives … 1/4 cup of olive
oil … 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, basil, and thyme … 1 bay leaf … 4 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
or cilantro … 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco … 1 squeezed
clove of garlic … 1/4 cup of tomato ketchup . . . and
salt and pepper.

When that’s done, drain the fish and add the spicy mixture,
letting the treat stand for at least 10 minutes before you
serve it. 

Carrot Ceviche

This recipe produces a truly unique main dish or salad. Cut
1 pound of fish into fillets and marinate them for 1/2 hour
in the juice of 6 limes. Then drain the slices of fish, pat
them dry with paper towels, chop them very fine, and drain
them on paper towels again. 

At that point, place the fish in a bowl and add 1 large
Bermuda onion and 1 jalapeno pepper–both chopped very
fine–plus 2 large, finely grated carrots. Next, mix in 1/2
teaspoon of oregano, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 2
tablespoons of parsley. 

Coconut Ceviche

Finally, for a touch of the exotic, cut 1 pound of fish
into half-inch cubes and marinate them in the juice of 6
limes (or 3 limes and 3 oranges). After 1/2 hour, drain off
the liquid and add the milk and finely grated meat of one
small coconut, 1 clove of crushed garlic, salt, and white
pepper. Serve the dish in a coconut shell garnished with
orange slices and flowers. 

I’m sure you’ll find ceviche–whether served as a
snack with crackers, a seafood cocktail, a salad, a
luncheon entree, or part of a buffet–quick and easy
to make, inexpensive, always popular … and especially
appetizing during the coming hot summer days!