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Everything You Need To Know About Ceviche

Famous in South America, ceviche is a widespread fish that you can find in Peru, Colombia, Chile, and even Mexico. This dish is primarily made up of seafood, and is a favorite among many.

Since this is a seafood dish, you can primarily find it in coastal areas all over Latin America.

Sometimes spelled “seviche” and known as “cebiche”, this dish typically includes raw fish, chili, and lime. In this post, we will specifically be talking about Ceviche Peruano, a classic Peruvian ceviche dish.

While there are similarities between most ceviche dishes, we will be exploring some of the differences a little later on, too. 

Everything You Need To Know About Ceviche

Here, we are going to learn more about what ceviche is, its history, and what you need to know about the preparation and serving of this dish.

We will also take a look at Mexican ceviche, as well as ceviche that uses ahi tuna, octopus, prawns, and shrimp. If that interests you, stick around and learn all about it! 

What Is Ceviche?

The term “ceviche” is used to refer to the style of cooking that originated from Central and South America’s coastal regions. It mixes the delicious traditional foods that the natives are known for and the foods that were brought over by the Spanish in the 1600s. 

Ceviche is a popular dish all over the world now, and while it isn’t difficult to make, it does require a lot of attention to detail. Not only that, but the ingredients used in this dish have to be fresh.

Without fresh ingredients, a ceviche will not have the authentic and delicious flavor it should have.

The History Of Ceviche

While the exact history is known, there are theories that state that ceviche might be a lot older than we think. One of these theories dictates that ceviche, in some form, comes from the Moche of Peru, and is over 2,000 years old.

The Moche people were known to use fermented juice, typically from the banana passion fruit, to marinate raw seafood. When the Spanish arrived in the 1600s, they modified the fish to suit their preferences.

From there, Ceviche is thought to have spread around Latin America, and recipe variations came into being. 

Only recently, historians are thought to have figured out what the fish was marinated in. A fermented Andean beverage known as chichi was used to do this.

This beverage is known to have been in use during the Incas rule, but the validity of this theory is still unknown.  

Even the term “ceviche” itself is shrouded in mystery. According to researchers, the term could come from a number of places, including Latin, Arabic, and Spanish. For Latin, the word “cibus” means “food for men and animals”.

In Arabic, ceviche is thought to be linked to the words for soup and vinegar. The word “escabeche” in Spanish refers to “pickle”. Ceviche can also take on the spelling of cebiche or seviche, both of which are pronounced the same in Spanish. 

Ceviche Myths

If you have never had ceviche, you have probably heard a number of myths about this dish. To clear things up, let’s take a look at some of the most common ones below before proceeding. 

Raw Fish

The myth that the fish used in ceviche is raw isn’t entirely true.

In truth, the use of the lime juice as a marinade cooks the fish without using any kind of heat. Since limes contain citric acid and have a pH level of 2-3, the acidity “cooks” the fish. For reference, anything with a pH below 7 is acidic, and above that is alkaline. 

When it comes to lime juice, many chefs are of the opinion that fresh isn’t always better. In other words, lime juice might just get better with a little age, so extracting the liquid and storing it for a while could be beneficial.

This is especially the case if it is used in drinks, but applies to ceviche, too.  

Lime Juice Is Bad For Your Stomach

The second myth is that ingesting lime juice is bad for your stomach. 

Lime juice has actually been found to be beneficial to digestion. The acidity can aid saliva in breaking down food, which leads to better digestion in individuals.

Not only that, but the flavonoids found in limes are known to stimulate digestive juice secretion, which also aids digestion. 

When you are looking for the perfect lime to use, try to find one that seems to be heavy for its size. The heavier the lime is, the more juices and flesh it has inside. If you notice that a lime seems very light, it’s probably old.

When limes age, the juice and flesh inside dry up and practically become useless. You should also keep an eye out for vivid green coloring, and avoid any limes that look like they are beginning to brown. 

Ceviche Has To Be Spicy

Many people think that all ceviche has to be hot, but this isn’t true.

While the spicy aji peppers are a staple for ceviche, there are ways to tone down the heat. A great way to do this would be to blanch or boil the peppers for a few minutes before using them for your dish.

Blanching will reduce their heat and make it more bearable if you are new to spice. You can always reduce the blanching time the next time you make your ceviche and kick it up a notch!

On the topic of chilis, it’s also important to note that you can always try out different chilis for your ceviche, too. This won’t make the meal as authentic as it could be, but it is doable. Similarly, you don’t have to use fresh chilis, either. Instead, you can use a chili paste.

You can also use red onions to add a hint of sweetness to your ceviche, countering the spice. It’s up to you whether you want thinly sliced or chunky onions. So, whichever you prefer, why not try it out next time you make ceviche?

What You Need To Know About Making Ceviche

Before you jump into making your first ceviche, there are a couple of things you should know. Sure, you could just find a recipe online and follow it, but knowing a couple of things first would be a good idea.

Let’s take a look at a couple of things you should know about making ceviche, especially if it is your first try.   

What Ingredients Are Needed For Ceviche?

What Ingredients Are Needed For Ceviche

Despite the fact that ceviche has spread across the world, Peru is where it originated from. Anyone who likes ceviche will probably know about Gaston Acurio, a Peruvian chef famous for his ceviche dishes.

He is known for using the incredible traditional flavors in ceviche, but also creating delicious and exciting variations. These variations can be found in his restaurants, and all over the world now. 

It is thought that, without Acurio, ceviche would not be as widespread as it is now. In fact, it is possible that this amazing dish would still be a South American regional dish. Could you imagine a world that isn’t familiar with ceviche? 

According to Acurio, there are some very important things to consider when making ceviche. To make this dish successfully, you need only three ingredients.

However, these ingredients need to be properly prepared, and be of high quality. Let’s take a look at what Acurio says about the three ingredients required for this stunning dish. 

  1. Raw fish – the first, and possibly most important element of ceviche, is the raw fish. There is no set type of fish you need to use for this, so feel free to use whatever your favorite is. However, the most traditional ceviche dishes will use fish such as shark or sea bass, which the ancient Peruvians would have been able to catch after curing them in salt brine. Whichever fish you use will need to be cut up into small chunks before adding the liquids. 
  2. Lime juice – any kind of citrus juice will do, but the traditional ceviche recipes used lime or lemon juice once the Spanish brought them over. Before the use of citrus juice, it is thought that ceviche was made up of raw fish, chili peppers, and salt.
  3. Aji – the final ingredient needed is aji (ah-hee), a type of chili pepper. These fruits are orange-yellow, and are known to grow all around Peru. When rated on the Scoville scale, these aji chilis are somewhere in the 40,000-50,000 Scovilles. For those who aren’t sure how hot that is, the jalapeño sits between 2,500-8,000 Scovilles. Aji peppers come in a number of varieties, all with varying heats.   

“Cooking” Ceviche

When you cook food normally using heat, the food is denatured. This refers to the process that happens when the structure of food is changed.

A great example of this would be something like egg – when eggs get cooked, the egg white goes from translucent to white. The color changes, dictating when the food is cooked. 

Denaturing also happens when citric acid is applied to protein. In this case of ceviche, the citric juices and acid denatures the raw fish (or any other kind of seafood). This “cooks” the fish without using any kind of heat, making it safer to eat. 

Cooking times for ceviche are incredibly important, but they vary greatly depending on who is preparing the meal. Some chefs prefer to leave the fish in the citric juices for just a minute, while others will leave the fish to marinate for 10 minutes or more.

Many individuals even prefer to leave the fish to denature for several hours or overnight. However, it’s important to note that fish that is left to denature for too long can often turn rubbery. 

It’s also very important to get high quality fish. The “cooking” process of using citric acid is very different to using heat. As such, the method used for ceviche is not able to kill all bacteria in food like using heat would.

So, while the marinating will make fish safer to eat, it is not to the same degree that using heat would result in. 

The majority of pathogens will not be able to survive once they are put in the acidic environment, but there will be those that can live. To get around this issue, many people choose to boil the fish for a very brief time before they marinate it. This simply ensures that the fish is safe to eat and the pathogens die. 

On the same topic, the freshness of the fish is incredibly important, too. We will go over how you should properly store your fish, but this is crucial as fresh fish is unlikely to have come into contact with pathogens. Not only that, but fresh fish will also taste a lot better. 

To make sure that fish is properly “cooked”, whether you only use citric acid, or boil it first, it must be cut into the right sized chunks. Smaller chunks will cook faster, which ensures that it is safer.

If you don’t want to boil your fish for safety first, you can experiment with the marination timing.

Although when ceviche is thought to have initially been created the Moche people used a bath of salt, methods have come a long way. Instead of leaving a whole fish in a bath of salt for hours or even days, lime juice was used in the 1970s.

However, even at this time, a whole fish was  often used. When Peruvian chefs started creating these dishes, they decided to cut it up and marinate it in citric juices for a far shorter time. 

The longer you marinate your fish, the more the fish flavor will be impacted. Since the main reason you are eating a ceviche is for the fish flavor, this is generally seen as a bad thing.

As such, you can try out different marinating times to see which one you like the most. Remember, some chiefs only leave their fish to denature for a minute, while others leave it for hours.  

Overall, denaturing fish using an acidic liquid is not the same as cooking it using heat. With this method, the outside of the fish becomes firm, but the inside is still tender and soft.

As such, bacteria can be a problem if the fish is not responsibly handled or fresh. If you ever think that the fish in your ceviche is not fresh, the dish should not be eaten for safety reasons.  

Other Ceviche Ingredients

Other Ceviche Ingredients

Other ingredients that are often used in a ceviche recipe include red onions. These are popular in the dish because of the introduction of red onions to Latin America by the Spanish.

The onions can be diced into chunks, or sliced very thinly, depending on your preferences. If you don’t like them, you can even forgo the red onion altogether.

Clam juice is another popular ingredient added to ceviche. The use of this product adds some extra seafood flavoring to the dish, bringing it together beautifully.

What Is Typically Eaten With Ceviche?

There are a few menu items that are typically eaten alongside ceviche. This will include things like corn on the cob and sweet potato side dishes as starters or side dishes. Ceviche itself is typically a main course, and can vary from one region to another.

Some regions add ingredients like seaweed, various peppers, garlic, and anything else they want. However, the base recipe will always be the same.

In Peru, there are cevicherias, or ceviche restaurants. Here, appetizers are frequently served in a glass and contain things like small fish chunks in a marinade. Like with ceviche, the marinade is there to make the fish more palatable and denature it.

These kinds of appetizers are known as leche de tigre or even leche de Pantera, which literally translates to tiger’s milk, or panther’s milk. 

In both the main course and the appetizers, the marinade is a crucial element. Though tangy foods might not be for everyone, it’s important to understand why the marinade is there – it’s all for the fish. 

Best Fish To Use For Ceviche

There are a few types of fresh fish that are generally seen as being great options for ceviche. These fish are as follows:

  • Sea bass
  • Sole
  • Flounder
  • Grouper
  • Pollack
  • Halibut
  • Bream

Oily fish are not recommended for ceviche, though salmon is occasionally used in the dish. Other oily fish like mackerel should not be used for these kinds of recipes. 

When you’re looking for fish to use in your ceviche, it’s important to get it from a trusted source. Getting your fish from a fishmonger that you can trust is ideal. While supermarket fish is typically more readily available, it often isn’t at the high quality that’s needed for ceviche.  

If you are shopping around looking for fish, it’s important to note how the fish is being stored. The fish should be kept both on top of, and below, a layer of ice to keep it fresh. Ice should not be melting, and the fish should not be held in a refrigeration unit with other foods. 

Your nose and eyes will tell you everything you need to know about picking out fish. Fish that is fresh should not smell “fishy” – they should smell like nothing.

If you notice that some fish does smell unpleasant or fishy, it’s a dead giveaway that it has been there for too long and is no longer fresh. This goes for both whole fish and fillets. 

The appearance of the fish is another giveaway. A fresh fish should be firm to the touch, and the meat should be translucent. In other words, some light should be able to pass through the flesh. If you are able to poke the fish, do so – a fresh fish will not stay indented. 

Looking at the eyes is the final important thing to take note of. A fish with sunken or cloudy eyes is not fresh. Instead, look for fish that have eyes that are clear, bright, and moist. If you notice that they are looking a little sad, avoid the fish and find a fresher one. 

Remember – you can use any fish you like, as long as it isn’t an oily type. Just remember that you will need to time how long it needs to marinate for, as this will change from one type of fish to another.

Generally, a fish that has soft and flaky meat will need less time to marinate and denature. For this reason, sea bass, sole, snapper, and the other fish listed above are great options. Generally, these types of fish only need around 15 minutes to marinate before consumption. 

For fish like salmon and tuna, marination will take longer. Fish like these might need to denature for around an hour before they can be eaten. This is primarily because these types of fish have muscle structures that are a lot tougher. 

With that being said, you can also go for foods like oysters, mussels, and clams. If you wanted to make a ceviche with these, they would only have to marinate for around 15 minutes.  

How To Store Fresh Fish Properly

Because fish is the primary ingredient of ceviche, knowing how to store it is crucial. There’s no point in going through the effort to make one of these dishes only to incorrectly store your fish and have it go off. 

The best thing you can do is make your ceviche as soon as you bring your fish home from the fishmonger. However, if you absolutely must store the fish for any period of time before using it, make sure you do it properly.

Like you would have seen it at the fishmonger, the fish should be placed on a solid sheet of ice, with more ice on top. 

You can create your layers of ice by using two large plastic trays with ice, then covering them with plastic wrap. Place the ice in the trays, cover them with plastic wrap, and sandwich the fish between the ice layers. This should keep it fresh until you need to use it that same day. 

Using this method of storage can keep your fish fresh for up to two days, but it isn’t recommended to wait that long. It’s much better to use the fish while fresh. If needed, you can also buy frozen fish to use, but this won’t be as good as fresh.

It’s worth mentioning that by freezing the fish, the bacteria will be killed, and the fish will be safe to eat. 

With that being said, using frozen fish does increase the preparation time. If you need to use frozen fish, blanching it would be beneficial rather than going straight into cooking it with the citrus juice.

Doing some blanching will allow the citrus juice to better penetrate the fish.

Everything You Need To Know About Preparing And Marinating Fish

Everything You Need To Know About Preparing And Marinating Fish

Timing the “cooking” of your ceviche fish will be different depending on preferences. Below, we will take a look at some standard marination times for fish, and the effect it has on the fish.

  • 0-1 minutes – fish will still basically be raw and have a strong fish flavor and smell
  • 1-2 minutes – changes to the fish’s texture and flavor will be minor, and milk lime flavor will be imparted on it
  • 2-3 minutes – the most common cooking time. Lots of lime flavor is fused into the fish, but it isn’t overpowering. This length of time might not be enough for some people.
  • 3-10 minutes – good flavor infused into the fish, and the fish is adequately denatured for most people.
  • 10-15 minutes – a good amount of time for some types of fish, but can also be too much for fish like sea bass.
  • 15-60 minutes – opinions vary greatly. For some, this is too much. For others, more marination may be required.

To get the best results, chop up some red onion, use fresh fish, and serve the meal with pisco sour. Serve the dish at room temperature to get the best flavor experience.

You can also experiment with various other ingredients and regional recipes to find your perfect ceviche.  

About Ceviche

How Long Does It Last?

Since ceviche uses fish that is not fully cooked, it doesn’t have a very long shelf life. This dish should always be prepared fresh, then eaten fresh. 

Although you are able to store leftovers for short periods of time (a day or so to be safe), you need to know that the marinade will continue to “cook” the fish.

This is the case even if you get rid of as much as you can. After a couple of days, the fish will eventually fall apart in the refrigerator. If you know that you won’t be able to eat your leftover ceviche in the next day or two, throw it away. 

What Is Served With It?

If you want to try a classic drink to go with your ceviche, try out Pisco Sour. This is the national drink of Peru, and probably one of the most delicious cocktails on the planet.

If you’re looking for some great side dishes to go with your ceviche main, get some corn on the cob, or sweet potato. 

If you are going to enjoy your ceviche as the appetizer, you don’t need to worry about side dishes. Just remember to get that cocktail if you’re able to!

Peruvian Vs Mexican Ceviche

For those who know a little bit about ceviche, you will know that there are lots of different types. The two ceviche types that are frequently brought up are the Peruvian, which we’ve talked about here, and the Mexican.

Now, both of these dishes are delicious, but there are some key differences. Let’s take a look at them:

  • Marinating time – Peruvian ceviche marinates the fish for a much shorter period of time compared to the Mexican version. In some ceviche recipes from Peru, the fish is only soaked for as little as one minute. The Mexican dishes typically soak their fish for much longer.
  • What it’s served with – Mexican ceviche is frequently served with corn tortilla chips. Peruvian ceviche, on the other hand, might come with sweet potato or corn on the cob. The South American dish might also come with corn kernels. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ceviche Safe To Eat?

Yes, ceviche is safe to eat as long as the fish is fresh and contains no parasites or bacteria.

What Fish Is Used To Make Ceviche?

Any non-oily fish can be used in ceviche. Popular choices include sea bass, grouper, sole, and halibut.

Where Does Ceviche Come From?

Peru. Ceviche originated from the South American country of Peru.

Why Is Ceviche So Popular? 

It has a mild but delicious flavor that is very different from other foods.

Is Ceviche Cooked Or Raw?

The fish in ceviche is “cooked” using citric juices. As such, it denatures without using heat.

Can You Put Shrimp In Ceviche?

Yes, shrimp is a popular choice for ceviche.

Jess Smith


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