An outdoor party in the middle of a Florida summer requires food with the power to refresh. Something bright. Something light. Ceviche, the citrus-soaked seafood appetizer from Peru, has all those characteristics and one more: It's a show-off. Brilliant greens, reds and yellows mingle with creamy white and pink seafood, all foretelling the look-at-me flavors to come. Prepare several varieties and surround them with sturdy chips, crackers or even tender lettuce leaves to scoop up the flavorful melange. Or pass a tray of spoons — buy inexpensive Chinese soup spoons at Asian food stores — piled with a heaping mouthful of scallops. Or shrimp. Or salmon. Even tofu.
The trick is to keep the bowls of ceviche ice cold. Ladle the mixture into shallow serving pieces that can sit on a layer of ice. Do everything you can to avoid lukewarm ceviche. That's a party pooper.
Ceviche can also be served as a first course for a dinner party. A scoop of ceviche over soft butter lettuce is a fitting start to a meal of grilled seafood. Add a couple of oversized wheat crackers to help push the ingredients around. No utensils necessary; this is casual coastal food.
Making ceviche, alternately pronounced seh-VEE-chee, seh-VEE-cheh or seh-VEECH, is simple. Vegetables — most often avocado, peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes — and cilantro or other fresh herbs are mixed with bite-sized pieces of uncooked shellfish or fish. The mixture is doused with citrus juices and marinated for at least two hours or more depending on the seafood. Ceviche is best served the day it is made.
Citrus acid pickles raw seafood so it tastes and looks cooked, but it is not. This process does not kill parasites in fish. Freezing kills parasites, so this is one case where buying frozen fish might be beneficial. With shellfish, bacteria is more of an issue, so freezing won't help.
If you eat sushi, you'll probably be comfortable with traditional ceviche. If not, try some of the recipes for cooked versions that accompany this story.
We tested five recipes and each was surprisingly different. Asian ingredients brought out the best in a slab of fresh ahi tuna, and a chopped twist on shrimp cocktail got a boost from ketchup.
We were dubious about tofu ceviche — moving that far away from original intent didn't seem promising — but the results were good, especially if you want a vegetarian offering. Make sure to get as much liquid as you can out of the tofu before dicing the soy curd in small pieces. It is the tofu's texture more than anything that can turn this version from interesting to insipid.
Watermelon, mango and orange segments are also common ceviche ingredients. Besides appealing color, they bring a refreshing note to the mixture. In Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche, the juicy red fruit plays off spicy fresh ginger and jalapeno and cooling mint, and all complement cooked lobster, shrimp and scallops.
Ceviche is open to interpretation. Add more or less cilantro. Double the fresh jalapeno for more heat, or leave it out altogether. Jicama can stand in for cucumber, and vice versa. Use more lime or lemon for tartness, or mellow with orange juice.
Make it your way, then invite the crowd over.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter, too (@keelerstircrazy). Her recipe blog, Stir Crazy, is at blogs.tampabay.com/food .
Shrimp Ceviche "Cocktail"
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 pound (41-50 count) medium peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jícama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Several lime slices for garnish
Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink, about 3 minutes. Drain immediately and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining 1/2 cup of lime juice and refrigerate for an hour or until thoroughly chilled. (This step can be shortened by plunging cooked, hot shrimp into ice-cold water.)
When shrimp are chilled, assemble the ceviche. In a small strainer, rinse the diced onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado. Gently fold together. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
To serve, spoon ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses or small bowls; garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.
Makes 3 cups.
Source: Adapted from Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless (Scribner, 2000)
Island-Spiced Tuna Ceviche
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup each fresh lemon and lime juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound fresh ahi tuna cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
1 small jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed and finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
Kosher salt to taste
1 medium ripe tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
In a mixing bowl, combine the oil, lemon and lime juices, vinegar and coconut milk. Whisk together until the liquids are incorporated. Combine the tuna, red onion, jalapeno and ginger, and fold together until everything is mixed and coated with the liquid. Make sure that the fish is submerged. Add more coconut milk to taste, if desired. Season to taste with salt, and refrigerate for at least two to three hours before serving. Fold in the tomato and herbs right before serving, and re-season with salt if needed.
Source: St. Petersburg Times
Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche
1 navel orange
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup diced (1/4 inch) seeded watermelon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh jalapeno chilies
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound sea scallops, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound (21-25 count per pound) large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound cooked lobster meat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Cut peel and white pith from orange with a sharp paring knife, then cut segments free from tough membranes. Chop enough segments to measure 1/4 cup. Stir together chopped orange, orange juice, lime juice, watermelon, ginger, onion, jalapeno (to taste) and salt in a large bowl.
Bring a 1-quart saucepan three-fourths full of salted water to a boil, then add scallops. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and poach scallops until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Return water in saucepan to a boil and poach shrimp in same manner. Drain shrimp in a colander and transfer to bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain scallops and shrimp well and pat dry.
Add scallops, shrimp, lobster and mint to watermelon mixture and toss to combine, then season with salt. Chill ceviche, covered, at least 1 hour.
Source: Gourmet magazine, July 2003
1 block firm tofu
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 firm-ripe avocado, diced small
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 amount of extra-virgin olive oil as the limes produce juice
1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
The goal of the first step is to press moisture out of the tofu. Cut the tofu in half lengthwise. Place the halves on a cookie sheet lined with two layers of paper towels. Top the tofu with two more layers of paper towels. Place another cookie sheet on top, and place heavy cans or a large pot on top to weigh it down (basically you have a tofu sandwich with paper towels and cookie sheets, topped with a heavy can). Let the tofu sit for 1 hour.
Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add cilantro and avocado and mix gently; do not break tofu apart. In a separate bowl (or martini shaker) mix lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce. Add the dressing to the tofu mixture and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Source: SF Foodie blog (sffoodie.wordpress.com)
Salmon Ceviche With Mango
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets, cut into small cubes
1 cup fresh orange juice (from about 2 large oranges)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 mango, peeled, fruit cut off of the seed and diced
1 to 3 jalapenos (depending on how spicy you like your ceviche), sliced into rings, seeds removed
3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Place the salmon in a medium bowl and mix with the orange, lemon and lime juices. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour. Drain the salmon, discarding the marinade, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place it in a clean bowl, and if not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to serve or up to 1 hour.
Just before serving, stir the soy sauce, mirin, onion, mango, jalapenos and cilantro into the salmon. Toss to coat and serve immediately.
Source: Simply Delicioso by Ingrid Hoffman (Clarkson Potter, 2008)