One of the reasons it’s taken me seven months to try making ceviche is because you have to do it as soon as you buy the fish. Peruvians insist that only fresh fish will do, straight from the fish market, and were horrified when I suggested I’d make it a week later with frozen fish. They won’t even eat ceviche at night, as that’s way too much time between the fisherman’s catch and the plate. So that plan went out the window.
Then the dilemma is deciding how to make it, and who to listen to, as everyone has their own recipe and insists that they know the secret – what type of fish to use, how much lime, how long to soak it, what type of chili, etc etc.
When I came home from the market I had about three ceviche ‘recipes’ swimming around in my head – from the fishmonger’s mumbling monologue that I didn’t quite understand, the lady at the vegetable stall knowingly selling me eight limes when I asked for three, and then Javier, the security guard for our building, warning me not to use too much lime – contradiction much?
And when I say ‘recipes’ I mean small bits of information that I managed to understand in Spanish. But they were all pleased that I wanted to make their beloved (unofficial) national dish, and happy to share their secrets.
I decided to follow Martin Morales’ recipe for Don Ceviche, from his book Cocina Peruana (in Spanish!), a birthday present from my friends here in Lima. His food was actually my first introduction to Peruvian fare, at his restaurant Ceviche, not far from where I used to work in Shoredich, London.
Key ingredients for authentic Peruvian ceviche
Pescado – you want a meaty white fish and many Peruvians, including Martin, favour corvina or lenguado
Limón – which is lime in English not lemon (which is lima or limón americano – it gets confusing). This is absolutely essential for the dish
Ají amarillo – indigenous chili pepper, full of flavour that’s essential to so much of Peruvian cuisine
Camote – lovely orange sweet potato, the soft sweet flavour contrasts nicely with the sharpness of the lime and chili
Choclo – a native variety of corn, that looks like it’s left over from the time of giants, producing huge white kernels
Canchita – more corn, but roasted and salted ‘normal sized’ kernels. Great to snack on, and served in many restaurants to munch on while you await your meal. Adds a great textural distinction to ceviche with their nice salty crunch.
Bringing it all together
For a raw fish dish, there’s actually quite a lot to do! First you boil the sweet potato and choclo, and leave them to cool, and make leche de tigre (tiger’s milk – sounds lethal right?) made by infusing ginger, garlic, coriander and chili in lots and lots of lime. Sorry Javier…
When ready, you rub salt onto the fish – this opens up the pores, allowing it to absorb all the lime from the leche de tigre, which you pour over it to ‘cook’ it.
You only leave it for 3 minutes, and then mix in the cooked sweet potato and choclo, more chili and serve up, sprinkling with canchita and fresh coriander (cilantro). Yum.
I’m living in Peru and eat a lot of ceviche, so glad I finally tried making it. It was fun to have the full experience of buying everything fresh from the market and making it all myself. It was really tasty and we enjoyed it, but I’ll probably stick to restaurants in the future!
Love from cold wintery Lima xxx