My mother and I spend a great deal of time planning our holiday meals. Christmas Eve is always a big seafood extravaganza, our own version of the Italian “Feast of the Seven Fishes” and though much of the menu stays the same, we’re open to new ideas. Throughout the year we keep an eye out for something that might work into the menu. If something piques our interest, we’ll make a little mental note and have lengthy discussions. Oysters on the half shell, steamed clams and king crab legs with lots of lemon and garlic butter are fixed, no question. But we’ve also tried shrimp cocktail, steamed mussels, BBQ shrimp, a horrendously failed attempt at grilled calamari, stuffed mussels and a cold seafood salad at one time or another. While all were good, except that calamari which I refused to serve, neither of us was in love with any of them. So I was on the lookout.
And then it happened through the beauty that is Twitter. Last October, I was perusing my twitter feed and noticed this come through:
Ceviche love indeed. Of course! The simplicity of the tweet made me smile. Everything I needed to know was right there, in less than 140 characters. A nice, fresh ceviche would add a much needed layer of acidity to the rather rich menu, could be made ahead and was pretty low fuss. It was so obvious. My mom loved the idea and we had our shortest menu discussion to date. That it was from Chef Mark Mendez was even better. This guy knows his ceviche and has a fantastic Spanish restaurant, Vera, in Chicago’s West Loop (really, you must go. Now.)
I’ve made ceviche many times and while it was always good, it never really bowled me over. This simple ratio of lime, lemon and orange was perfect. The orange has a way of balancing the acidity of the lime and lemon juices, adding a lovely touch of sweetness. It was easily the best version I’d made and it went over like gangbusters with the family.
With Cinco de Mayo around the corner, this is an easy and delicious one to whip up. The key is the seafood. Be sure to get impeccably fresh seafood. You need to make an effort here because what you’re essentially eating is raw fish – and sorry to say, you will not likely find this at your average grocery store.
I happen to like scallops and had some big fat Alaskan beauties in the freezer from my friend Carri, the wonderful proprietor of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, AK. (Do I need to say it? If you find yourself in Homer, go!) I’d been saving them for just the right thing and this was it. If scallops aren’t your thing, shrimp or a firm white fish works very well too. Again, freshness is key so be sure to ask your fishmonger what they have that will be ok to eaten raw. They’ll tell you.
Marinating fish in citrus juice is a classic South American method and is often referred to as “cooking” the fish. This isn’t entirely true. As Harold McGee writes in On Food and Cooking, the period of marination in citrus juice “changes both the appearance and texture of the fish: in a thin surface layer if it lasts 15-45 minutes, throughout if it lasts a few hours. The high acidity denatures and coagulates the proteins in the muscle tissue, so that the gel-like translucent tissue becomes opaque and firm: but more delicately than it does when heated, and with none of the flavor changes caused by high temperatures.” So it’s imperative you have some good, fresh seafood. Also be aware that this needs 2 hours minimum to marinate and no longer than 12. The longer in the marinade, the firmer the fish will become, however, at some point the citrus juices will start to break down the fish and turn it mushy. Be aware.
To the citrus-fish mixture, I like texture and color so into the bowl goes some tasty, crunchy colorful bits and a little bit of heat from some finely diced serrano but you could use jalapeno or a touch of habanero. It’s quite a showstopper – it’s not often you can serve something so pretty and elegant that is so easy to put together. Serve with warmed corn tortillas for little tacos, with crunchy tortilla chips or go full on Peruvian and garnish with some popcorn. No, really.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: WHAT STRESS? Start pouring margaritas and kick back. This is the perfect summer dish – bright, colorful and refreshing. Better yet – it has to be made ahead. Hooray! It’s a party in a glass, and a pretty one at that. Just perfect for Cinco de Mayo.
on this blog three years ago: Homemade Saltines
on this blog two years ago: Homemade Crème Eggs
on this blog one year ago: Popovers with Strawberry Butter
other Twitter recipe experiments: Chocoflan!
other Cinco de Mayo recipes: Avocado Lime Popsicles (and check back Friday for another one!)
SCALLOP CEVICHE – based on a tweet from Chef Mark Mendez of Vera
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
1 pound fresh sea scallops, quartered (or shrimp or a firm white fish)
6 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (3 ounces)
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (2 ounces)
2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice (1 ounce)
½ small red onion, finely diced, about ¼ cup
1-2 serrano chilies, seeded and finely diced
1 celery stalk, minced
½ red pepper, finely minced, about ¼ cup
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely minced
freshly ground pepper
- Combine the scallops and citrus juices with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a glass or other nonreactive bowl and stir to mix well.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 12.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, salt and pepper, if needed.
- To serve, spoon into small glasses and garnish with cilantro leaves alongside warmed corn tortillas or tortilla chips if desired.