Ceviche, also spelled Cebiche, is not only one of the most popular dishes in Peru and the pride and joy of all Peruvians, but as well the Peruvian National Dish with its very own National Day. A refreshing and light must-eat full of Peruvian flavor!
The traditional Peruvian ceviche is prepared in no time using just 5 simple, (at least on the Peruvian coast) easily available ingredients: fresh, raw, white fish filet and onions cooked in freshly pressed lime juice and seasoned with Peruvian chili peppers and salt.
The simplicity, freshness and flavor of this famous Peruvian appetizer and lunch that comes in countless regional variations reflects like no other the cuisine of Peru’s coast and is part of the national heritage.
And while ceviche can be found in many Latin American countries along the coast, it most probably has its origin in Peru. According to archaeological evidence the Moche civilization in northern Peru already prepared a dish very similar to ceviche over 2000 years ago. They “cooked” raw fish in tumbo (banana passion fruit) juice and seasoned with aji and salt.
Later the Inca's used chicha, a fermented corn beverage, to marinate the fish. When the Spanish conquerors brought limes to Peru, the ceviche, we know today, was born.
By the way, the juice left after the marination process of the ceviche consisting of the lime juice and all the flavors from the fish and chili peppers, is called Leche de Tigre. Peruvians spoon it, when they have finished their ceviche or drink a small glass of it as cocktail or for easing the pain of a hangover.
Some advice for preparing Peruvian ceviche
Ceviche is probably one of the easiest and quickest dishes to prepare at home. The recipe for a traditional Peruvian ceviche is at the end of this article. But before you get started please read and follow the few really simple rules below to enjoy a well-prepared, flavorful ceviche that will impress.
- Use fresher than fresh semi firm, white fleshed sea water fish such as sea bass, snapper, sole or flounder.
- A nice addition to a ceviche is other seafood such as shrimps, calamari or clams; but stay away from oily fish like tuna, sardines or mackerel.
- Cut the fish filet into even bite-sized pieces, so it cooks evenly (yes, the lime juice really cooks the fish, denaturing the proteins similar to cooking with heat.)
- Use fresh limes. If you can’t get a hold of the typical acidic Peruvian limes, use key limes or the most acidic limes you can find. Press them only half to avoid bitterness.
- Go easy on the chili pepper; ceviche should be a perfect balance between the refreshing acidity of the lime and the spiciness of the aji.
- Always prepare ceviche fresh. Before serving let the fish sit in the marinade for 10 to 15 minutes; then it's cooked perfectly: firm outside, but still tender and juicy inside.
- Depending on where you are, finding aji limo and aji amarillo might be a challenge. Most Latin American food stores sell it, so do many Latin American and the big international online retailer. And if you are extremely lucky, you might even find it fresh on a local market. If you just can’t get it, you can substitute the aji limo with habanero pepper or any other red chili pepper (even red chili flakes work ok).