Peru­vian Ce­viche

In Lima, finer fish cuts, bolder hot-sour bases, and un­re­strained cre­ativ­ity set this dish apart


walk­ing around lima, where there are ce­vicherías in ev­ery neigh­bor­hood and each one is burst­ing with lo­cals, you would never know that ce­viche—a citrus-mar­i­nated seafood starter—wasn’t in­vented in Peru. Crude forms of the dish—at its most ba­sic, raw fish mar­i­nated in a lime, fish stock, and ají chile mix­ture—are found all along Latin Amer­ica’s Pa­cific Coast and have been for cen­turies. Yet, it is in Peru that the most elab­o­rate ver­sions have taken shape, in­flu­enced by waves of im­mi­grants and in­ter­na­tional chefs.

When the Span­ish ar­rived in Peru in the 1500s, they found coastal com­mu­ni­ties eat­ing raw fish mixed with the juice of tumbo, a pulpy pas­sion fruit rel­a­tive. They added lime and onions, up­ping the acid­ity and bite of leche de

ti­gre (tiger’s milk)—ce­viche’s fa­mous bright and briny base. But it was Ja­panese chefs in Lima who, in the past 50 years, have sculpted ce­viche into its cur­rent culty form. To­day in Nikkei, or Ja­pane­sepe­ru­vian, ver­sions, the fish is cut more finely, and the liq­uid is added only a few se­conds be­fore serv­ing, leav­ing the fish more sushi-like and less “cooked” by the acidic juices.

On week­ends, ce­vicherías are the city’s so­cial cen­ters. At ca­sual des­ti­na­tions such as So­nia in Chor­ril­los, founded by fish­er­man Freddy Guardia and his wife, So­nia, ce­viches made with the day’s catch come be­fore pulpo al

olivo (oc­to­pus in a pur­ple olive sauce) or fried fish and rice. Young friends and the fash­ion crowd might end up at Barra Lima, one of the city’s most re­spected neo-ce­vicherías, where bound­ary-push­ing chef John Evans Ravenna has helped give con­tem­po­rary Peru­vian ce­viche its clout.

“Ce­viche can be one of the sim­plest and most com­plex dishes,” says Ravenna, who is known for adding non­tra­di­tional com­po­nents like silky emul­sions he learned in fine­din­ing kitchens or del­i­cate na­tive plants. He also uses clas­sic in­gre­di­ents, like can­cha

(toasted and salted chullpi corn) and choclo (a largek­er­nel white corn), com­mon in the street-stall ver­sion,

ce­viche car­retillero. But where those stalls of­ten fea­ture sole or seabass, cheffy Nikkei ver­sions might in­stead use bonito or mack­erel, and sesame seeds in place of the corn.

Though the va­ri­eties are end­less, a few parts of Ravenna’s sig­na­ture style have stuck in his dishes, in­clude saltcur­ing the fish a day be­fore to firm and fla­vor it; or adding seaweed, sal­icor­nias (a briny suc­cu­lent), ox­alis (sor­rel), or ed­i­ble flow­ers. “Still, what is most im­por­tant is us­ing the fresh­est fish pos­si­ble.” It is a more-is-more dish—up to a cer­tain point.

For crunch and tex­ture, buy puffed rice, pop chullpi corn in a hot oiled pan, blanch choclo corn, or deep-fry quinoa (p. 41).

Cooked sweet potato, yuca, and white potato—some­times in a sweet glaze—are com­mon ce­viche in­gre­di­ents in Peru.

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