The Peruvians have a rightful claim to have invented ceviche, and to be fair every time I have eaten ceviche described as Peruvian (twice), it has been lovely.
But I have eaten Mexican ceviche hundreds of times, because I live quite near the beach in a particularly hot and sunny corner of Mexico. Ceviche in Mexico is the ultimate botana (Mexican tapas) whenever you are at the beach. And it’s one of those dishes that is eaten communally and almost always washed down with cold beer. In the Yucatan peninsula ceviche is most often made with octopus, shrimp, white sea-snail, chivita (a small escargot-like mud snail), or a mix of the above, or just with raw fish. It is the latter that I find most appealing, despite the fact that it is considered the cheap and cheerful version of the dish, to the extent that a few plates of it are often given out free with a round of beers. I like ceviche de pescado because it’s delicious, none of the ingredients are cooked, it feels super healthy, and if you are fishing and you are lucky enough to catch something (and you had the forsight to bring tomato, onion, salt, coriander, chilli and a knife with you), you can be shovelling the freshest ceviche into your mouth right on the boat within half an hour of the fish being reeled in.
White fish fillet (not oily fish) A similar weight to that of the onion
Tomato 3-4 Medium
Onion 1 Medium
Habanero Chilli 1
Coriander 1 generous handful
Lime Juice of 2 or 3
As I write this ingredient list I can feel some sort of déjà vu, that’s right I posted a guacamole recipe not long ago and it of course has many of the same ingredients. But with the flavour of the fresh fish and the optional extras of black pepper and olive oil, this becomes an entirely different…bowl of stuff to dip tortilla chips into.
Makes one big plateful for sharing.
Firstly wash and chop your fish into rustic chunks about the size of a stock cube and douse in lime juice and a generous sprinkling of salt. The fish should be fully coated and sitting in a shallow puddle of lime juice. Mix it a few times during the marinating process. This counts as “cooking” the fish in citric acid, and it will take about 10 to 20 minutes to become firm and change to a more opaque white. Once this is done you should drain the fish from the juice to halt the “cooking” but reserve this leche de tigre (tiger blood!?!) to be re-added later as a dressing.
While the fish is marinating chop your veg.
The coriander should be washed and dried (it goes black faster if it’s used wet) before being coarsely chopped.
The tomatoes should be no bigger than 1cm cubes.
The onion and the chilli should be as fine as you can chop them. Some people roast their onion and Habanero over coals or the hob flame before using in a ceviche. This will slide your ceviche over to the right-hand side of the FRESH / TANGY <> SAVOURY / UMAMI scale which I think I might have just invented, and if you like the sound of this, go for it. It goes without saying that you should use Habanero with care, both to avoid making your ceviche too hot, and to avoid una enchilada (that’s right, enchilar is the verb to get chilli all over something).
Herd Gastronomy’s Roast Onion recipe is here if you need it: https://herdgastronomy.com/recipes/recipe-chiltomate-and-cebolla-asada/)
Now to assemble your ceviche.
Start with your drained marinated fish in a mixing bowl (and any cooked/marinated shrimp or cooked octopus chunks you may be using), adjust levels of salt and add some grinds of black pepper. You should have your fish just on the salty side of perfectly seasoned.
Now add the onion (and some peeled/chopped cucumber if using, it’s not part of a classic ceviche, in fact I reckon my local ceviche guy only uses it when onion is expensive to bulk it out, but I have become quite fond of it).
Add half your chilli and mix carefully with a wooden spoon so as not to break up the fish chunks.
Finally add tomatoes and coriander and toss delicately as you would a salad. Taste it for salt and pepper and if it can take more heat add the rest of the Habanero.
Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, a good drizzle of your leche de tigre (maybe all of it if you like a very tangy and wet ceviche, but bear in mind that the more acidic it is, the quicker your veg will lose its crunch and collapse into a slop) and mix very carefully one last time. If using avocado add slices on top of the ceviche, don’t mix avocado into the ceviche or you will slime up the whole thing.
To serve, transfer the ceviche from the mixing bowl to a large flat plate and spread it out for people to share (serving in a bowl isn’t ideal as we don’t want the fish at the bottom to get overmarinated). Or serve on individual plates. On the side you will want plenty of lightly salted tortilla chips, more chopped Habanero or perhaps even a chiltomate on the side for the chilli fiends, and of course some cold beers (google Chelada and Michelada if your appetite for tanginess extends to your beer preparations, they are huge in Mexico especially en la playa).