You don't have to travel to Central or South America to learn one of the tastiest tricks to keep your kitchen cool this summer. Consider an alternative and fresh way to prepare seafood. A dish that originated in Peru, ceviche was very popular along the coastal regions of the Americas. Today, thanks to refrigeration and modern transportation, fresh seafood is readily available, and ceviche is gaining in popularity.
The method of preparing ceviche is simple. Start with fresh fish or shellfish, cut it into small pieces, add salt, and marinate it in citrus juice. Resting the thinly sliced or cubed seafood in this acidic bath makes it suitable for eating. This process is called denaturing. Proteins lose their structure and the flesh becomes firmer—similar to what happens when you cook with heat. Preparing fish this way without heat results in a fresher flavor, because the fish does not dry out from high temperatures.
One word of caution: since you will not be using heat, make sure you start with the freshest seafood possible and always keep it on ice to insure it stays that way. How can you tell it is fresh? If your seafood smells like fish, it is not fresh. It should smell as fresh as an ocean breeze. It also is wise to purchase seafood from a reputable market.
Students at The Culinary Institute of America learn many methods for preparing food in their global cuisines classes—Cuisines of Asia, Cuisines of the Americas, and Cuisines of the Mediterranean. Preparing ceviche is one of the lessons taught in Cuisines of the Americas.
"In any coastal culture you will find some form of ceviche," say CIA Chef Lynne Gigliotti. "Preparation varies from region to region. In Peru you will find it made with corn, in Columbia with coconut milk, and from other areas made simply with lemon juice."
The following recipe has been adapted from one developed by Elizabeth Johnson-Kossick, a chef-instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.
* You may use fresh coconut milk if desired. Break the coconut open, drain and reserve the juice, and remove the pulp. Cut the fresh coconut pulp into pieces. Shave enough of the pulp to toast and use as topping. Place the remaining coconut in a blender along with the coconut juice, cover with hot water, and purée until smooth. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh strainer. Squeeze the coconut to remove as much liquid as possible.
** Caution when handling hot peppers: Wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after removing the gloves or handling the peppers. Do not let the juice from the peppers come in contact with your eyes or skin.
Chef's note: It is important to make sure you use the freshest fish possible and you keep it cold. When removed from refrigeration, place fish in a container on top of crushed ice covered with plastic wrap or in a bowl placed in a larger bowl filled with ice.
Surgeon General Warning: Consumption of raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as beef, eggs, fish, lamb, pork, poultry, or shellfish may result in an increased risk of foodborne illness.
Nutrition Analysis for sauce per 6-ounce serving: 200 calories, 19g protein, 6g carbohydrate, 12g fat, 60mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, 1g dietary fiber.