The Art of Ce­viche

A small dish with enor­mous fla­vor, cul­ture and edge

RSWLiving - - Department­s - BY ME­LANIE PA­GAN

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


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.

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