Ceviche is a fresh and delicious Latin American appetizer that always leaves you tantalizing for more. It is made by cooking small, chopped up pieces of raw fish or seafood with lemons or limes. I lightly say cooked because heat isn’t involved, but rather the acidity of a citrus fruit. This acid chemically burns the seafood and changes the texture and properties of the protein, a process called denaturation (ooh, science!).
Ceviche often includes onions and spices in the marinade and should only be cooked this way when the seafood is fresh. Although it does alter the properties of the protein, it does not kill the bacteria. Something to keep in mind if you ever attempt to make this!
Travelling to several Central and South American countries, I’ve had the pleasure of trying different types of ceviche. While they all use lemon/lime as their standard method of “cooking”, I did notice some subtle nuances.
In Panama, the ceviche can be served in little tart-like cups. The flavours are very bold and I found the tartness to be very potent. Their specialty ceviche is made with sea bass and I can vouch that it is absolutely delicious! Although I would gladly eat it plain, I find the little pastry cups give it a nice crunchy texture in combination with the soft seafood, red onions and spices. Plus, it can hold some of the marinade juice as you eat the little appetizer cup. You can say it’s somewhat like eating an open version of pani puri – both are messy, but both are worth it!
From my experience, a Mexican ceviche doesn’t taste as acidly potent as the Panamanian version. However, like in many Mexican dishes, they tend to use different types of chiles in the mix, including serrano, jalapeño or habaneros to kick it up a notch. Sometimes it is served with tortilla chips, another Mexican staple.
In Ecuador, I found the ceviche was more fragrant and they like using tomatoes as part of their ceviche base. It is often served with roasted corn nuts and popcorn on the side. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite type of ceviche, but it was still tasty!
Interestingly enough, a friend of mine thought ceviche was the same thing as pickling. However, pickling is using the acidity of vinegar to preserve as opposed to a ceviche using citrus fruit to cook and be eaten shortly after. Lemons and limes may have been the norm for ceviche for years, but many chefs are now experimenting with different types of fruits, including grapefruit and yuzu to name a few. I foresee exciting times ahead for the world of ceviche!