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Spicy Latin American Ceviche PDF Print E-mail
by Dave DeWitt 

Spicy Latin American Ceviche


Ceviche de Corvina (Peruvian Sea Bass Ceviche)

Peruvian Mixed Seafood Ceviche

Ceviche de Camarones (Ecuadorian Marinated Shrimp)

Ceviche with Bitter Orange

Marinated Snapper Peruvian-Style

Ceviche de Mojarra (Sunfish Ceviche)

Ceviche de Palapa Adriana--Estilo Acapulquito

Ceviche de Almejas Estilo Baja (Baja Clam Ceviche)

When bars specializing in ceviche start springing up, as they have in New York City, you know that this intriguing seafood dish has reached the zenith of popularity. Ceviche is, of course, fish or other seafood that is marinated in citrus juices and other ingredients so that it is "cooked" without heat. Whoa, you say, isn’t ceviche just a fancy way to make sushi or sashimi? How can you cook without heat?

No, ceviche is not raw seafood. Let me explain using the example of fish, which consists mostly of protein fibers that resemble coiled springs. When heat is applied, starting at about 130 degrees F., the bonds holding these fibers in place begin to relax–that is called denaturing–and then the protein fibers straighten out and link together (coagulation). The fish is thus cooked. However, this process can be caused by more that just heat. Air drying, a very old culinary practice, has the same effect, and so does acidity. So the citric acid in limes, lemons, grapefruit, and oranges has precisely the same effect on the protein in fish and other seafood that heat does.

One major difference, however, is that citric acid will not kill any parasites in the fish like heat will. Fortunately, most fish are parasite-free, as any sushi chef will tell you. So the rule of thumb is: if you are comfortable eating sushi or sashimi, go ahead and try ceviche. If you are not, don’t. When in doubt, freeze the fish according to the following guidelines:

  • 7 days at -4 F; or

  • 15 hours at -31 F; or

  • Freeze to -31 F then store for 24 hours at -4 F or colder

These will kill the parasites, making the defrosted fish safe to be eaten raw or in ceviche.

Both the origin of the word ceviche and the dish itself are lost forever. However, we have some hints. Since all citrus fruits are Asian in origin, they were introduced into the Americas by Europeans, so the dish is post-Conquest. The Incas were known to each raw fish marinated in chicha, a beer made from corn, so it is possible that after the Spanish introduced limes, they were substituted.

There is much debate about where ceviche originated, which most sources narrowing the location down to either Peru or Ecuador. The people of both countries catch and eat a lot of seafood, but because of the Incan connection, it seems to me that Peru would be a logical choice. Not that it makes much difference where the birthplace was. According to Linda Stradley, the author of What’s Cooking America, " The preparation and consumption of ceviche is practically a religion in parts of Mexico, Central, and South America, and it seems as though there are as many varieties of ceviche as people who eat it."

Virtually any seafood can be made into ceviche, including white fish (salmon and other dark fish don’t work that well), shrimp, clams, lobster, and conch and squid (tenderized first). The chiles used are those native to the different regions that specialize in ceviche. In South America, the ajís and rocotos are used, while in Mexico the chiles of choice are jalapeños and serranos are popular. However, virtually any chile can be used in any ceviche.

Other vegetables and spices are also combined with the seafood, citrus juice, and chiles, including oregano, salt, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and more. The recipes will reveal a number of interesting combinations..

In Ecuador, the juice that stays in the plate after eating the ceviche is called "tiger’s mik." It is said to be good for hangovers, and it is perfectly acceptable to lift the plate to your mouth to drink it. Some people ever mix it with vodka to make a ceviche cocktail. Wait, before you protest, think of clam juice in a bloody mary!

Fresh Seafood Served Daily

"And when the Inca wished to eat fresh fish from the sea, and as it was seventy or eighty leagues from the coast to Cuzco...they were brought alive and twitching, which seems incredible over such a long distance over such rough and craggy roads, but they ran on foot, not on horseback, because they never had horses until the Spanish came to this country [Peru]." --Martín de Murua.

The Patron Saint of Ceviche

"Saint Anthony, who presides over fishermen and cooks alike, usually is represented in the Brazilian kitchen by a small painted wooden statue that looks down from his little shelf with especial benignity when roballo (a sea pike) or pompano is ceremoniously laid out on the board and the dressing of it begun, while the tail is being wrapped in a bit of oiled paper to keep it intact and the head perhaps is being tied with string to keep the jaws from sagging open in cooking. For no Latin would spoil the looks of a roast fish by cutting off its most decorative features." --Cora, Rose and Bob Brown


Ceviche de Corvina (Peruvian Sea Bass Ceviche)

I am including several ceviches from Peru because some travelers claim that they are superior to those of Ecuador. The most popular fish used in Peru is sea bass, or grouper, although every type of seafood and shellfish is used as well. The Peruvian ceviches include a few rounds of cooked corn on the cob and cooked slices of sweet potatoes. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 1 1/2 pounds sea bass fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces, or substitute swordfish

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 rocoto chiles, seeds and stems removed, thinly sliced into rings, or substitute 1 habanero or 3 jalapeños

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch thick slices

  • 3 ears fresh corn, cleaned and cut into 2-inch thick slices

  • Bibb lettuce leaves

Place the cut and cleaned fish into a large glass or ceramic bowl and sprinkle with the salt and black pepper. Add 1/2 of the chile rings, paprika, onion, lemon juice, lime juice, and the garlic and mix lightly; cover the mixture and refrigerate for 3 to 5 hours until the flesh is opaque.

About 30 minutes before serving the fish, cook the sweet potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water for 12 minutes; then, add the corn to pot and cook for 10 minutes more, until tender. Drain the vegetables and reserve them, at room temperature, for the garnish.

Drain the fish thoroughly in a colander and arrange the Bibb lettuce leaves on 4 dinner plates. Place the fish on the lettuce leaves and garnish with the reserved chile rings, and surround the fish with the wheels of cooked sweet potatoes and corn.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Peruvian Mixed Seafood Ceviche

This particular ceviche is spicy because the addition of a fair amount of crushed ajís or whatever dried chiles you have available. The use of corn and sweet potatoes signal this dish as being very typically Peruvian. Serve it as an entree for lunch or dinner on those hot and sweltering days of summer. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice

  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 3 dried ají chiles, seeds and stems removed, crushed in a mortar, or substitute 2 New Mexican chiles (mild) or 6 piquins (hot)

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 large red onion, sliced paper thin

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 pound white fish fillets, such as catfish, cut into 1 inch pieces

  • 1 pound cleaned shellfish (clams, oysters, or mussels or a mix)

  • 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, Italian preferred

  • 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 Bibb lettuce leaves

Combine all the ingredients except the potatoes, corn, and lettuce a large ceramic bowl, mix well, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 3 to 5 hours. If the citrus juice doesn't cover the fish, add more.

Just before serving, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and drop in the sweet potatoes and boil for 10 minutes. Then, add the rounds of corn to the pot and boil for another 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables thoroughly.

Drain the fish in a colander to remove the marinade and arrange the fish on the lettuce on 4 dinner plates. Garnish with the sweet potatoes and the rounds of corn.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Ceviche de Camarones (Ecuadorian Marinated Shrimp)

This recipe comes from our friend, Loretta Salazar, who lived in Ecuador while she attended the university on an exchange program. The popcorn that is served on top of the ceviche is an American approximation probably of the toasted corn, or cancha, that is served over Peruvian ceviches. This ceviche is a quick one, if you use precooked, frozen mini-shrimp. Serve the ceviche on a bed of bibb lettuce, garnished with black olives, sliced hard boiled egg, feta cheese, a slice of cooked corn on the cob, and maybe some crusty bread for a very appetizing luncheon or light dinner. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 2 pounds frozen cooked shrimp

  • 1 medium red onion, sliced very thin

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ají chiles, or substitute yellow wax hot or jalapeño

  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

  • 3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Lettuce

  • 2 1/2 cups freshly popped popcorn

Pour the frozen shrimp into a colander and run cold water over them for a minute or two. Drain the shrimp thoroughly and then place them on paper towels to drain off the excess. Place the shrimp in a non-reactive bowl (such as Pyrex), add the remaining ingredients (except the lettuce and popcorn), mix lightly, and marinate the mixture in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.

To serve: drain the cerviche in a colander and serve on individual plates on beds of shredded lettuce, garnished with the warm popcorn.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Ceviche with Bitter Orange

This recipe is a second version of the Ecuadorian specialty. The fish can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish for a refreshing summer meal. It is traditionally served with maiz tostada (toasted corn) or popcorn on the side. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 1 1/2 pounds any firm white fish fillets; snapper or catfish recommended

  • 1 cup bitter (Seville) orange juice or substitute 1/2 cup lemon juice mixed with 1/2 cup orange juice

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced

  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper

  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper

  • 1 habanero chile, seeds and stem removed, minced, or substitute 3 jalapeños

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Garnishes: popcorn, red bell pepper rings, green bell pepper rings

Cut the cleaned fillets into thin, diagonal slices and place them in a large ceramic bowl. Pour the citrus juices over the fish, add the onion, chopped bell peppers, habanero, olive oil, garlic, salt, ground black pepper, and mix gently to coat the fish. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to "cook" the fish.

Drain the fish and arrange the slices on individual plates, garnishing with the popcorn and the pepper rings.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Marinated Snapper Peruvian-Style

This ceviche is different from the others because the spicy chile-vegetable mixture is spread on the fish after it has finished "cooking." Add more chiles to pack more punch into your ceviche. And, speaking of packing a punch, Latin legends hold that ceviches are aphrodisiacs and will give a woman many sons. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 2 pounds snapper or sole fillets, washed and cut into one inch strips

  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell peppers

  • 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped 2 fresh pimientos, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped, or substitute red bell pepper

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons cilantro or Italian parsley, minced

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 fresh ají chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced, or substitute yellow wax hot or jalapeños

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar

Place the fillets in a ceramic bowl, pour the lemon and lime juice over them, and mix the fish gently to coat with the juices. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate 8 hours or preferably overnight.

Mix the remaining ingredients together and allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for one hour.

Drain the fish and arrange it on lettuce leaves on 4 individual plates. Spread the chile mixture over the fish, dividing it evenly among the plates.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Ceviche de Mojarra (Sunfish Ceviche)

This spicy ceviche from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas can be served on fresh greens for lunch or for a light dinner, accompanied by warm tortillas. Any of the fish substitutions will work equally as well in this dish. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation..

  • 2 pounds cichlid or sunfish fillets (or substitute freshwater fish: bass, perch, or pan fish)

  • 4 jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice

  • 1 cup chopped red onion or sweet onion

  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 cup chopped green olives

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Cut the fish into 1-inch pieces and place them in a shallow glass baking dish, such as Pyrex, pour the lemon juice over them and sprinkle with 1/2 of the minced jalapeños. Marinate the fish for one hour in the refrigerator. Then pour the fish and the marinade into a colander and let it drain for a few minutes. Carefully place the fish into a glass bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the onion, tomatoes, salt, black pepper, cilantro, olive oil, garlic and the remaining jalapeños together. Pour this mixture over the fish and mix gently.

Mix the green olives and the mayonaise together in a small bowl.

Serve the marinated fish on fresh greens with a dollop of the olive-mayonnaise mixture.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Heat Scale: Hot

Ceviche de Palapa Adriana--Estilo Acapulquito

(Acalpulco-Style Ceviche from Palapa Adriana)

This recipe is from Kathy Gallantine, who told about her search for the best ceviche.. "If you wish to try Acapulco-Style ceviche at Palapa Adriana," she said, "a restaurant on the Malecón in La Paz, Baja California Sur, you must specially request it. The ceviche listed on the menu is served without the peas, carrots, and serrano chiles. Serve this dish for a light lunch or a light dinner on hot nights when you don't even want to turn on an oven!" Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 1 1/2 pounds of any white fish fillet, chopped

  • 8 Mexican (Key) limes, juiced

  • 2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced (or more to taste)

  • 1 tomato, finely chopped

  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped

  • 1/4 cup canned peas

  • 1/4 cup finely diced cooked carrots

  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro

  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  • 8 to 10 corn tortillas, fried flat and very crisp

Place the chopped fish in a shallow ceramic bowl. Pour the lime juice over the fish, cover and refrigerate the mixture for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the fish is opaque.

Just before serving the ceviche, stir in the tomato, onion, peas, carrots, and cilantro. Add the salt and pepper to taste. With a slotted spoon, heap the ceviche onto the crisp tortillas and serve.

Yield: 4 servings as an appetizer

Heat Scale: Mild

Variation: Use tiny cocktail shrimp or sliced bay scallops in place of the white fish. Reduce the marinating time to 30 minutes or less.

Ceviche de Almejas Estilo Baja (Clam Ceviche from Baja)

This recipe was provided by author Kathy Gallantine. She collected it from Antonio Seja Torrez, a clam-picker in Baja. Every day at low tide, Antonio crawls through the mangroves and collects 500 pata de mula "clams," that are really mussels. He carries the several miles to the dock at Magdalena Bay, where he sells them for ten pesos apiece. His daily earnings come to about $2.00 U.S. "About enough to buy a kilo of beans," he says cheerfully. Try this recipe with true clams, but be prepared too pay a much higher price for them! Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • Bottled Mexican hot sauce, to taste

  • 24 whole clams, removed from their shells

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 tomato, chopped

  • Juice of 6 to 8 Mexican (Key) limes

  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  • 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro (optional)

  • 2 pounds crushed ice (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients except the cilantro and the ice. Put the ceviche into a covered ceramic bowl and refrigerate it until it’s well-chilled, about 3 hours.. Serve it immediately or let the flavors marry and serve it up to three days later.

To serve the ceviche Guaymas-style, save the clam shells and scrub them well. Fill 4 to 6 shallow bowls or plates with crushed ice. Nest the half shells into the ice and heap them with the ceviche. Then garnish each plate with a sprig of cilantro.

Variation: Use freshly shucked oysters in place of the clams. Omit the tomato and add an 8-ounce can of sliced water chestnuts, and 1/2 of a red bell pepper, seeds removed, and chopped.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Varies depending on the type and amount of hot sauce used.


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Illustration by Harald Zoschke


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