‘So what is ceviche to you?’
The question, via text message from a good friend, even better chef and fellow food thinker, set off a firestorm of messages.
‘Is aguachile a thing?’
These are the kinds of days good Mexican seafood are made of.
Ceviche is the much better known dish of the two, and is eaten throughout the extensive coastal regions of Mexico with a seemingly endless number of variations. There is no agreed upon origin for Mexican ceviche, though it is generally seen as being a Peruvian import.
Aguachile, in comparison, has a distinct origin in the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit in Mexico’s Pacific coast, and consists primarily of thin sliced fish, scallops or shrimp, drowned in lime or other citric juice mixed with red or green chile, and heavily garnished with sliced cucumbers, red onions, and avocado.
Ceviche in the United States tends to be served quite dry, robbing it of the soupy marinade which gives the dish its flavor. A splash of Clamato is sometimes added to a finished ceviche, a practice I do not follow myself, as I find it needlessly muddies up the otherwise bright flavor. Either Persian or Key limes can be used in this recipe and the aguachile which follows, but lemon is not recommended, as it lacks the necessary tartness to properly flavor the fish.
The key to a tender instead of rubbery ceviche is to consume it quickly once it is properly marinated. All of it. It is a huge sacrifice, I know.
- Mexican Ceviche
- 2 lbs non-oily white fish such halibut, red snapper, or cod
- 2 lbs limes
- 1 cup small diced red onion
- 1 cup small diced cucumber
- 1 cup small diced tomato
- 1 cup unpacked chopped cilantro
- 1 or 2 minced serranos
- Good quality fine sea salt
Cut the fish into small and even pieces, somewhere between ¼” to ½”. Get your citrus press out, get comfortable and start squeezing those limes, squeezing enough juice to completely cover the fish. Stir well, cover and allow to marinate for an hour at room temperature, or approximately one and half to two hours refrigerated.
While the fish marinates, cut the onion, cucumbers, tomato, cilantro and serranos. When the lime juice and fish start to turn a milky white color, add the red onion, allowing the lime juice to remove some of their sharpness. Continue to marinate for another fifteen minutes or so. Drain of most, but not all of the juice out of the fish and onions , mix in remaining ingredients, squeeze one or two key limes to add a brighter flavor, salt to taste. Refrigerate briefly and serve on tostadas with hot sauce. Salsa Huichol is my personal favorite for cold seafood dishes though Cholula works quite well.
The ‘spicy water’ of aguachile consists of a puréed mixture of lime juice with reconstituted dried red chiles, or green chiles and herbs. This version relies instead on a bit of dedicated knife work to finely chop the herbs and serrano chiles, but there is nothing to keep them out of the blender if that is the preference.
- Green Shrimp Aguachile
- 1 ½ pounds large shrimp
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 small red onion
- 1 serrano chile
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 avocado
- 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped mint, preferably spearmint
- Good quality fine sea salt
Peel and de-vein the shrimp. Split the shrimp in half, keeping the top and bottom intact to create a shrimp ‘ring’ if desired. Lay on a single layer on a non-reactive container, glass or ceramic, just big enough to fit them. Thinly slice the serrano into rounds and mix into the freshly squeezed lime juice. Pour the mixture over the shrimp, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. The shrimp will be cooked once it’s outside turns pink and the expose inner flesh turns bright white.
While the shrimp marinates, cut the skin off the orange. Begin by cutting off the top and bottom, and with a cut side down, removing the skin by following the arc of the fruit with a small sharp knife, trying to cut as little as the flesh as possible, but removing all of the white pith. Once cleaned and holding the orange in your hand, carefully cut away the segments, catching any juices which may drip, and squeezing the pulp well for any juice it may contain.
Slice the red onion and cucumber, as thinly as possible. To easily slice the avocado, cut into quarters, separating them by twisting and peeling the skin to prevent wasting any of the delicate flesh attached to it.
Working on a large platter, spread a layer of cucumber slices and orange segments, followed by the marinated shrimp. Scatter the red onion and sliced avocado on top, and season the dish well with sea salt. Mix the chopped herbs and reserved orange juice with the serrano infused lime juice, and pour as much as desired over the dish.
As with ceviche, this dish is best enjoyed the moment it is finished, and never kept for another day.