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A FRESH Point of View: Classic Ceviche

I think the first time I ate ceviche was in Cozumel, Mexico, so many years ago that I can’t quite put a date on it.  Growing up in Louisiana, I thought I’d eaten fish and shrimp every which way you could, but this was something I’d never even thought of before: Tender pieces of fish and shrimp, “cooked” by lime juice, and spiced up with onions, peppers and cilantro, all making a fresh salad that tasted great with crisp tortilla chips. I loved it from the first bite.

Back then, ceviche was still pretty unknown in much of the United States. If people did see it, they thought, Huh? Is that raw fish?

Of course, ceviche isn’t raw at all. The dish is traditionally prepared by marinating chunks of fresh shrimp, fish, octopus or conch in a spicy, piquant marinade that’s heavy on citrus juice, usually lime. The citric acid preserves the seafood, giving it a taste and texture similar to that cooked over heat. (The house-made version you can buy at the FRESH seafood counter, like that at many restaurants, is made with steamed shrimp or fish, which is then marinated in the traditional lime-juice dressing.) Typically, chopped onions, bell peppers, cilantro, and sometimes other vegetables are added for texture and taste.

People in the coastal regions of Mexico, Central and South America have been eating this dish for hundreds and hundreds of years. But there’s a lot of debate over where it was invented.

Many food historians say Peru, and indeed there is a great tradition of ceviche there, where it’s traditionally been made with sea bass. (Some of the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten was during a trip to Lima.)

However, ceviche is also extremely popular in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile and other coastal parts of the southern half of the Americas. And similar dishes have been eaten in other seaside communities for years. In the Bahamas, for instance, people love a ceviche cousin called conch salad, made with fresh conch, onion, celery, hot peppers and sometimes tomatoes. Even ahi poke, the marinated fresh tuna salad of the Polynesian islands and Hawaii, could be considered a kin to modern ceviche.

Here in the U.S., ceviche began going mainstream 15 or 20 years ago, with Mexican restaurants often leading the way. As an early convert, I see why it’s taken off: It’s light, fresh, naturally low-fat and full of flavor. And whether you buy our house-made version, or prepare it yourself with a recipe like the one I developed below, it makes a great, cool, easy-to-serve dish, especially in the summer.

Shrimp Ceviche
1 lb fresh small-medium gulf shrimp
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 Vidalia onion, finely diced
1 chayote squash (also called mirliton), finely diced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 cups lime juice (fresh squeezed)
1 tbls kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup blue agave tequila

Peel, de-vein, and thoroughly wash shrimp.

Combine shrimp, garlic, red bell, onion, chayote, lime juice, kosher salt, pepper, and tequila. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate 6-8 hours stirring every 2 hours.

Before service, stir in cilantro and olive oil. Season more if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips.

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