It is known as ceviche, cebiche, seviche or sebiche. This South American seafood dish is found in Peruvian kitchens and restaurants and has been declared the national dish of Peru. This old-world dish is most commonly created from fresh, raw fish that has been cured in fresh citrus juices such as lemon or lime. Historically, the original dishes were cured with the juice of bitter oranges as well. It can be spiced with aji, chili peppers, and other seasonings such as chopped onions, salt, or coriander. The name was derived from the Quechuan word siwichi, which means fresh or tender fish.
Raw fish dishes are no stranger to North America these days. Most sushi restaurants offer everything from delicious poke bowls with ahi tuna and sushi rolls such as sake nigiri (raw salmon) and Tekkamaki (tuna rolls). But what makes ceviche so different, and why would you want to try and make it?
What Makes Ceviche Different?
Unlike most dishes that involve raw fish—Ceviche is cooked. Just not in the conventional sense, such as adding heat. Diced cubes of raw fish are marinated in a lemon or lime juice mixture, which causes a reaction between the citrus juices and the fish protein. This reaction causes the fish to begin to turn opaque and firm while absorbing any flavors from the marinade of citrus juices and spices. This process is known as denaturing. We know the most familiar form of denaturing is cooking with heat, but you achieve a similar effect with the reactions between citrus and fish protein. After this curing process, the fish can often be served with colorful, fresh seasonings and other elements like peppers and onions. This is a simple yet bracing dish bursting with fish and bright flavors.
This method of preparing fish was born out of the need to preserve food. The specific birthplace of this preserving method is still a little unclear. The Incan Empire preserved fish with fruit juices, salt, and chili peppers, and the introduction of limes from the Spanish brought citrus juices into the picture. Some sources estimate this dish may have begun in the Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific.
Variations of this popular dish exist all over South and Central America. Ecuadorian versions of ceviche toss shrimp and tomato sauce into the marinate, and many Mexican versions of ceviche serve tostadas or tortilla chips along with it. Caribbean influences include adding a touch of creamy coconut milk. Even in Peru, there is a Japanese-Peruvian version known as Nikkei, which adds a layer of variation with finely cut fish amidst soy sauce togarashi and sesame oil.
Which Fish is Best for Ceviche and What Ingredients Are Essential?
At its most basic, the essential ingredients that make ceviche are raw fish, citrus juices, and seasonings.
There are several important things to consider before you even begin raw fish.
- Always purchase your fish from a trusted fishmonger or market that you know can be relied upon to sell you the freshest seafood and fish.
- Don't be afraid to tell your fishmonger or fresh fish seller that you are making ceviche and ask for advice on what is the freshest catch and what is optimal on that particular day.
- Even when given good advice, trust in your senses as well. If possible, examine the fish before choosing it. Signs of a fresh fish include a briny, light scent, firm to the touch with moist flesh. If the fish is whole, the eyes should be bright and bulging with bright red or pink gills. If it has a very strong, fishy odor, or the eyes are sunken into the head and cloudy—do not buy!
- Make sure you purchase the fish on the day you plan to make the ceviche.
Which fish should you choose for ceviche?
White, firm, and flakey fish is the best choice for this dish. The texture of this kind of fish allows the flavors to be absorbed into the fish flesh easier. The types of fish best suited for seviche are as follows:
- Sea Bass
- Red Snapper
- Sashimi/Sushi quality Tuna
Some versions of ceviche may call for shrimp, scallops, squid, or octopus. A critical note about using shrimp or shellfish: always blanch any shellfish (cook in boiling water until opaque, then plunge into ice water to cool) to guarantee the shellfish is safe to eat.
There are tons of additional ingredients you can experiment with, such as different peppers, corn, red, white, or Spanish onions, watermelon, and more! However, let's make some classic Ecuadorian and Mexican-style ceviche to get you started falling in love with this amazing dish. We hope you enjoy it!
Classic Ceviche Recipe
- 1 lb fresh skinless snapper, red snapper, sea bass, halibut, or other firm whitefish with flaky flesh.
- 1 ½ cups freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 medium white onion, chopped into roughly ½ inch pieces
- 2 medium-large tomatoes (roughly a pound) chopped into ½ inch pieces
- Fresh hot green chiles such as jalapeno or serranos seeded and finely diced
- ½ cup chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish if desired
- 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- 1/3 cup chopped, pitted green olives (manzanillos for a Mexican flavor)
- 3 tbsp fresh orange juice of ½ tsp of sugar
- 1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
- Tostadas or Tortilla chips, for serving
- In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, at least 1 ½ quart-size, combine cubed raw fish, lime juice, and onion. Make sure to use enough juice that the fish is covered and can float freely. Too little lime juice will unevenly cook the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, or until a cube of fish no longer looks raw when broken op. Drain in a colander.
- In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, olives, and optional olive oil. Stir in the fish and season with salt to taste. On average, ½ teaspoon. Add the orange juice or sugar, cover, and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Just before serving, gently stir in the diced avocado.