The Science of Ceviche
How Peru’s Beloved Dish is made
Three times a year, ICE publishes a new issue of The Main Course, our school newsletter and recreational course catalog. Every issue includes an article about a budding food trend with input from the industry experts at ICE. For the most recent issue, Editor Kiri Tannenbaum tackled the world of ceviche. We shared the first part of the article on ceviche’s history and evolution here on DICED last week. Today, we’re bringing you a look at how the dish is made.
While many consider this prepared fish to be cooked in the acidic citrus juices, in fact, it is not. Mike Schwartz, ICE Chef Instructor and owner of BAO Food and Drink explains, “Ceviche is basically denaturing the protein so it looks opaque or cooked.” To denature, in culinary terms, is to change the appearance and the texture. In this case, the denaturing process affects the fish in such a way that it has the appearance of being cooked. “However, it is much more tender then if you were to cook it,” says Chef Mike.
When selecting a fish, a white fish is preferred and the less oily the better. Chef Mike suggests using any fish or seafood you would normally eat raw — mostly ocean fish and generally the same selection you would find for Japanese sashimi or Italian crudos, but definitely not flounder. Salmon, fluke, and hamachi work well, but as Chef Mike warns, the latter is endangered. It is essential when making ceviche to first chill the fish before the prep even starts. The best way is to tightly wrap the fish fillets in plastic and let them rest in the freezer for 30 minutes until the fish is firm and no longer malleable. The firmness will make the fish easier to cut. There are no set rules for how long to marinate your fish.
According to Chef Mike, the process of denaturing happens relatively quickly but he adds, “The longer you marinate it, the more cooked it will appear.” ICE Chef Instructor and Peruvian-born Daniela Hurtado Castro grew up on ceviche. “In Peru, it is marinated for about three minutes, but in other countries, like Cuba, Mexico, and Ecuador, they marinate the fish or seafood for one to two hours,” says Castro.
Typically the Peruvian method involves lime juice, salt, and spicy chile peppers which bring out the flavor of the fish, but the dish is open to wide interpretation. The risks of preparing and eating ceviche are the same as they are with any raw fish dish. Fish should be as fresh as possible and deboning should be meticulous. Again, while the fish appears to be cooked, the citrus acids do not rid the fish of any potential parasites. If you want to get a little more familiar with this technique, this summer at ICE you can opt for one (or all) of the three courses offered on the topic. In her newest class, All About Ceviche, chef Castro will educate students on some of the classic preparations as well as learn about modern and fusion recipes including applying the same technique to fruits and vegetables