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Friday, September 29

Gapers Block

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A week after we moved and still no kitchen. Lots of boxes that are organized in the kitchen and I can at least get to the fridge, but I haven't even found the pots and pans, let alone the garlic press, so I'm relegated to cooking things like sandwiches, salads, and take-out. But at least I can make ceviche, which doesn't even require me to boil water.

This South American treasure traces its roots back to Peru or Ecuador depending on who you ask, and not Mexico like I thought. And there are regional differences based on the citrus used, the fish or shellfish used, and the side dishes that accompany this tasty food. In Peru you'll find slices of cold sweet potatoes or corn-on-the-cob, while in Ecuador you'll find a bowl of popcorn, potato chips, or corn nuts. In Mexico you're likely to find it with slices of raw onion and served with toasted tortillas. (Sometimes with ketchup, too, but I can't find my ketchup so I couldn't try that.)

Ceviche is essentially a white fish or shellfish that is marinated in an acidic juice until it turns white and opaque and then other vegetables are added. The fish looks cooked and it is, kinda. Raw fish proteins normally look like coiled springs and as heat is applied, they straighten out, lock together and coagulate, which is what causes the fish to look cooked. The citric acid found in limes, lemons, oranges and even tomatoes can cause this to happen without heat.

What the acid can't do is kill any parasites present in the fish. Most fish should be fine, but if you're uneasy, freeze your fish wrapped tightly in plastic for three days and the defrosted fish will be safe to eat raw or in ceviche.

Virtually any seafood can work for ceviche except for salmon and fish with darker flesh. Shrimp, scallops, clams, oysters, lobster, mussels, and squid (which has been scored to make it tender) are great to use in ceviche. The only other necessary ingredient are chiles. Ajís and rocotos are popular in South America while Mexican chefs tend to use serrano and jalapeņo peppers.

Other add-ons can be fruit like papaya and mango, oregano, salt, tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery and much, much more. If you think it would taste good, throw it in. The following are a few recipes from different countries.

Baja Style Clam Ceviche
Bottled Mexican hot sauce
24 whole clams, removed from their shells
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
Juice of 6-8 key limes
Salt and black pepper
1/4 bunch of fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients except for the cilantro. Put the mixture into a covered glass or ceramic bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to three days. Drain and sprinkle with cilantro just before serving.

This should give you four servings as an appetizer, two as a meal, and you can vary the spice by adding more or less hot sauce. You could substitute oysters for the clams.

Alcalpulco Style Fish Ceviche
1 1/2 pounds of white fish chopped, bones and skin removed
Juice of 8 limes
2 serrano chiles, minced finely with the stems and seeds removed
1 tomato, finely chopped
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup canned peas
1/4 cup finely diced cooked carrot
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
8-10 corn tortillas, fried flat and very crisp

Place the chopped fish in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the lime juice over it. Cover it and refrigerate for two hours, stirring two or three times. Once the fish is opaque, stir in the other ingredients (except for the crisp tortillas). With a slotted spoon, heap the ceviche onto crisp tortillas and serve.

This should give you four servings as an appetizer, two as a meal. You can substitute tiny cocktail shrimp or sliced bay scallops for the fish and reduce the marinating time to 30 minutes.

Ecuadorian Ceviche with Bitter Orange
1 1/2 pounds of firm white fish fillets (snapper and catfish work well)
1 cup of bitter (Seville) orange juice, or 1/2 cup lemon juice mixed 1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup of fresh lime juice
1 white onion, sliced very thinly
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 habanero chile, minced with seeds and stems removed, or 3 jalapeņos
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the fillets into thin diagonal slices and put them glass or ceramic bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain the fish and arrange on individual plates. Garnish with popcorn or thin rings of red and green bell pepper.

This will give you 4 servings as an appetizer, two as a meal. This would be rated "medium" if it were salsa so add more or less habanero to taste.

Mixed Seafood Ceviche, served Peruvian style
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 dried ají chiles, seeds and stems removed and crushed in a mortar (you could substitute 2 New Mexican chiles which are mild, or 6 piquins which are very hot)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large red onion, sliced very thinly
1 teaspoon salt
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound white fish fillets cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound shelled and cleaned shellfish (mix of clams, oysters, mussels)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch thick slices
3 ears of fresh corn, cleaned and cut into 2-inch thick slices
4 lettuce leaves

Combine all the the ingredients except the potatoes, corn, and lettuce in a large ceramic or glass bowl. Mix well and cover tightly and refrigerate for 3-5 hours. Stir occasionally and add more juice if the fish isn't covered. Just before serving, bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the sweet potatoes. Boil for ten minutes and then add the corn slices and boil for ten more minutes. Drain the vegetables thoroughly. Drain the fish well and arrange the fish on the lettuce leaves. Garnish with the sweet potatoes and the corn.

This will give you four main servings. The ají peppers may be hard to find so feel free to substitute another dried pepper if desired.

All of these recipes call for you to drain the marinade before serving. You may think about throwing away the liquid, but resist. The Peruvians call it "tiger's milk" and claim it to be the perfect cure for recovering from a hangover. I *ahem* have never had a hangover so I can't verify its medicinal qualities. But I will say that it tastes good mixed with a bit of vodka, and maybe a splash of tomato juice. Hair of what dog?

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dav3 / September 7, 2004 3:59 PM

sub blanched cauliflower for the various sea animals and you have a vegan version. Yum!

Alex / September 7, 2004 5:23 PM

My mouth is watering just reading this!

Smith / September 9, 2004 5:06 PM

if you want an excellent shrimp ceviche...head to Taste of Peru (~6500 N. Clark)...also has amazing live music from Trio Peru every Friday night!


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