Prep: 1 hr // Chill: 45 min
What is it?
We, Greeks, love fresh fish and seafood but also cold fruity and zesty small bites (mezze) amidst the sizzling Greek summer heat. Guess what, Peruvians on the other side of the world do too! And they do it pretty well, demonstrating some of the greatest cooking techniques in the world when it comes to fish and seafood. Ceviche is their signature dish and we fell for it during our travels to Peru. Ever since, I prepare it quite often (when I spot some nice fresh fish in the fish market) as it brings these warm, tropical and zesty feelings back to our souls. The recipe comes from the incredible Chef Héctor, a renowned chef in Lima who runs a cookery school and we met during our travels.
How to Master the Art of Ceviche
There are certainly many ways to prepare ceviche and a few hundreds of recipes out there to get inspiration. There are easy ways to prepare it and more complicated that release more flavour. But most of all, ceviche is a ritual, an art that if you master, you will see your dish elevated to the fine dining restaurant level. Throughout the course of a few years into hands-on ceviche preparation, a few cookbooks reading and some cooking lessons in Lima Peru, here's what helped me take my ceviche to the next level:
1. First and foremost: FRESH FISH. Can't stress enough the importance of sourcing the freshest fish. Food safety is important as consuming ceviche is actually eating raw fish so I would avoid supermarket fish as most of the fish there comes frozen from farms in remote countries. The best ceviche is made of fresh fish caught on the open sea. Best candidates are relatively firm fillets like sea bass, sole and red snapper. However, I've seen ceviche in restaurants with tuna and salmon, or prawns and scallops which is also quite tasty.
2. The MARINADE. There are simple and fast marinades and then there is the authentic marinade. To put it simply, the difference between simplicity and authenticity is the way the marinade is prepared and the herbs and ingredients used. While a simple recipe yields just bathing the fish fillets in lime (or lemon) juice, the chefs in Peru master the art of infusing the marinade by pressing each ingredient into the marinade with a pestle, as if in a ritual. I explain down in the instruction section how this is done.
3. COOKING TIME. Leave it for more than a couple of hours in the acidic marinade and your fish will start losing texture. Leave it for less than 30 minutes and you will end up with an "uncooked" chewy texture. After many attempts in my kitchen, I worked out the ideal minimum time of "cooking" is 45 minutes.
Big bowl, food processor or blender, large sieve, sharp knife
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 fresh fish fillets (e.g. around 500g red snapper, sea bass or sole)
1 Red onion
1 Chilli pepper
2 garlic cloves
25g fresh coriander
3 cm fresh ginger root
1 cup ice
1 medium sweet potato
Salt & Pepper
2-3 cooked king prawns
2 tbsp Aji Amarillo paste
1 tbsp Rocoto Chilli paste (or use 1 tbsp Cholula sauce)
First things first. Take a moment to read through the steps before starting, and make sure you’ve got all the ingredients and equipment ready.
Cut your fish with a sharp knife in fillets, remove skin and bones and chop in small cube bites. If your fishmonger is happy to do that for you, skip this step. Put the fish back in the fridge until the marinade is prepared.
I like to serve ceviche mixed with other seafood (called "ceviche mixto"), usually prawns or octopus. Skip this step if you are not using any of these. Otherwise, peel, cook (boil) and slice the prawns/octopus into 0.5 cm thin discs and set aside until serving
Cut the chilli lengthwise, remove seeds and veins (can be very spicy) and slice in small dice. Cut the red onion in half, remove the core (save it, we will use it later on) and slice the rest into thin julienne-style stripes. Soak the slices in salt water for about 10-15 minutes to reduce their intensity. Cut and set aside the stems off the coriander and finely chop the leaves for the garnish.
In a big bowl, squeeze the limes using both hands; try not to press the lime vigorously as it will affect the acidity. Acidity is important for “cooking” raw fish. The number of limes in this recipe should give you almost one cup of juice.
Pour the juice into the blender (or food processor) and add a cup of ice, the onion cores, a clove of garlic, pinch of salt and pepper. Blitz until smooth.
Add the coriander stems into the blender and whiz one more time, just enough to break them lightly and juices to incorporate.
Pass the blended mixture through the sieve back to the bowl. If using ginger, peel it and slice it roughly. Press the slices in the mix with a pestle to squeeze out some juice for 30 seconds and strain through the sieve again. Discard the ginger slices. Taste and adjust the salt to your liking. This is your ceviche marinade.
Optional Step: Some restaurants infuse the marinade with a very tasty Aji Amarillo pepper sauce, and call the marinade "tiger milk". That can be achieved by adding 2 tbsp Aji Amarillo paste and 1-2 tbsp Rocoto Chilli paste. This ceviche tastes great anyway so these pastes are only optionally suggested.
Toss the fish into the marinade bowl, top it with the onion stripes, diced chilli and finely chopped coriander leaves and leave it in the fridge to soak for at least 45 minutes.
While the fish is "cooked", you can boil a sweet potato and cut it into cubes or use an avocado instead if you are in a rush to serve. You can be creative here using other fruits like mango or cherry tomatoes too. Optionally, when the sweet potato is boiled and sliced, some chefs caramelise it in a pan using orange or passion fruit juice with a couple of tbsp sugar which makes it incredibly tasty.
Serve the fish with the prawns, potato or avocado/tomato garnish, chopped coriander leaves, diced chilli, and some onion slices and 2 tbsp from the marinade per serving.
Where to Try the Best Ceviche in Lima
Lima is a vibrant city with a huge food scene and some of the most spectacularly authentic food markets (like Mercado De Surquillo which I love). As you can imagine, ceviche is served everywhere. Even in Larco Museum's bar! However, I would suggest hanging around with locals to get the best out of it so why not consider trying a food tour with Ronny from Food Tour Lima!
Below you will find my favourite authentic products (affiliate links) I used to cook and shoot this recipe. By clicking and purchasing through these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This allows me to keep the site up to date and do more research on food, ingredients and photography. Thanks for reading!
Aji Amarillo Paste
It is an orange-yellowish chilli with a fruity yet earthy flavour, used widely in Peruvian cuisine. As such fresh Ají chillies are hard to find outside Peru, I’d recommend buying the Rico Picante or the Chatica Ají Amarillo paste from Amazon which I've tested and works like charm.
Check more recipes with Aji Amarillo.
Rocoto Chilli Paste
It's the Peruvian version of the sweet chilli sauce we eat with Asian food. The Chatica brand is very fragrant and nicely spicy, made of spicy rocoto South American chillies and lime juice, it will brighten up any dish or marinade. Can be used for ceviche but also in other recipes like my Peruvian Quinoa soup.