The Art of Ceviche
A small dish with enormous flavor, culture and edge
It’s a menu item increasingly found on appetizer lists. For some restaurants, it’s even a bestseller. The product of seafood marinated in acidic fruit, commonly known as ceviche, has left a lasting impression on palates around the globe. Chefs from all over customize ceviche by adding anything from jalapenos to wine, with seemingly endless possibilities for their creativity, resulting in delectable masterpieces.
“The beauty of ceviche is that you can create it from almost anything,” says Ed Slabinski, chef at Starfish Grille on Sanibel. “Seafood is a very versatile protein that you can deconstruct and do all sorts of things with.”
On any given day, both chef Slabinski and chef Juan Martinez— also of Starfish Grille— can be found in the kitchen, experimenting with a variety of fresh seasonal catches and ingredients for the ceviche of the day. Though the pair generally mixes things up, they say cilantro, onions, jalapenos and orange juice often suffice for a savory mouthful. “Four fresh ingredients are better than 10 sub- par ingredients any day,” says Slabinski.
Using the freshest picks of seafood and spices in order to create ceviche is important not only for taste, but for safety. The culinary delight is like an art, and with any great art, it’s also an illusion. The trick is that the entree is not actually cooked— as the fish marinates, citric acid kills bacteria and manipulates the structure, causing the protein to become firm and opaque as if it were prepared with heat.
And although citrus is the main ingredient in ceviche, it doesn’t always have to taste that way. Executive chef John Wolff of Thistle Lodge regularly whips up three varieties of the meal: spicy tomato shrimp, lemonlime scallops, and lobster with white wine Sangria. The trio leads the appetizer menu at Thistle Lodge, listed at the top as “A Study in Ceviche.” Each bite delivers a flavor and texture unique from the last, the only commonality being that all three are light enough to introduce a main course.
Chefs may have their own signature interpretations of ceviche, but Latin American influences typically linger throughout. The dish itself is of Latin American descent, created when ancient cultures would preserve fresh catches with citrus, but the exact origin is often disputed.
“There are definite distinctions between Peruvian, Colombian and other Central American countries’ ceviches, and they all are my influences,” says chef Wolff. “I’ve picked up knowledge from those
CEVICHE IS THE STAR IN OUR RESTAURANT— THE BESTSELLER!” — ROCIO NAVARRETE OF EL GAUCHO INCA
preparations and paired them with my own personal style.”
The husband- and- wife owners at El Gaucho Inca in Fort Myers rely heavily on tradition when creating ceviche at their restaurant. Peruvian and Argentinian aromas greet customers upon entering the quaint eatery, promising something authentic. When they try the ceviche, co- owner Rocio Navarrete says, guests are never disappointed. “Ceviche is the star in our restaurant— the best seller!” she exclaims. “Some customers order ceviche as an appetizer and others as their main dinner.”
When she lived in her native Peru, Navarrete says, the history of the meal was well- known, and ceviche was made to honor the way it was prepared centuries ago by her country’s inhabitants. “We honor the way Incas prepared fish: in its pure raw state, marinated with lime and salt,” says Navarrete.
There may be different views on where, exactly, ceviche originated and what it pairs best with, but chefs agree that one needn’t be a skilled artist to create their own concoction. Following some easy precautions can make preparing it at home seem like a paint- by- numbers kind of experience.
Since the seafood is not cooked, chef Slabinski insists on using the freshest protein possible, and to eat the meal in a timely manner. Navarrete says to refrigerate all components until the food is ready to be served. According to chef Wolff, non- citrus ingredients don’t need as long to blend with flavors. “Some things take longer to prep than others,” he says. “You want the mixture to marinate long enough to blend well, but not so long that other aspects become tainted.”
The next time creativity strikes in the kitchen or an impromptu dinner party calls for some zest, consider trying your hand at ceviche. Though professional chefs may be the Picassos of this edible art form, this dish allows all imaginations, and taste buds, to run wild with something conceptual and delicious. Melanie Pagan is the assignment editor and social media coordinator for TOTI Media. Follow her on our Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages, and at blog. totimedia. com.
Chef John Wolff of Thistle Lodge keeps the plate décor simple and lets “A Study in Ceviche” speak for itself.
Ceviche del Inca— a trio of fish, shrimp and various seafood— is just one variety of ceviche prepared fresh daily by chef and co- owner Mariano Maldonado.