Ceviche: A Deliciously Cool Dish for Hot Summer Days

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The numbers show it’s been an especially hot summer across the American West this year. Even the Bay Area has seen its share of higher than normal temperatures. And when the mercury is rising, the thought of cooking and heating up the house even more leaves many searching for options that don’t involve the stove.

Enter ceviche. All the “cooking” in this flavorful Latin America staple is done by lime juice. That’s right. No oven. No cooktop. No sweltering barbeque coals. Just fresh scallops (or any firm, white-fleshed fish) chilled in lime juice and mixed with a variety of tasty additions.

Experts say ceviche (or seviche) likely has its origins in Peru or Ecuador, but it’s now considered a traditional classic in many parts of Mexico, Central and South America. Instead of cooking scallops with heat, the acid in the lime juice slowly “cooks” the fish in a way that leaves the flesh firm, opaque, and bursting with flavor.

When choosing scallops, there are a few things to consider. Scallops come in different sizes. Varieties of bay scallops are on the smaller end and sea scallops are on the larger end. Some are so big you would need to cut them up for bite-size ceviche chunks. If you’re looking for less hassle, go with bay scallops. For peak freshness buy your scallops the morning you plan to make ceviche. Look for “chemical free” or “dry packed” scallops. Some fish markets pack scallops in a solution that makes them look more white, and makes them absorb liquid, so you end up paying for extra water weight, and tasting the soap-like flavor of the solution. Aquacultured bay scallops are typically the most sustainable choice.

Don’t forget that ceviche is just as tasty if you swap out the scallops with semi-firm, white-fleshed fish like halibut, sea bass, red snapper, flounder, grouper or swordfish.

Ceviche can be the main event in a meal, served with sweet potato chips, plantain chips or pita chips. Or it can feature as a chic appetizer, especially if it is served in wide-mouthed martini glasses

Here are basic directions to preparing authentic ceviche:

  1. Rinse your fresh scallops and put them in a bowl. Immerse them in lime juice. Chill overnight (or at least four hours). The key is they should become opaque before serving.
  2. Pour off all but half of the remaining lime juice and add your favorite additions. Tried and true options include fresh diced tomatoes, green onions, bell peppers, avocado, pineapple and olives.
  3. Add your spices. Salt, pepper, parsley, cilantro and hot peppers are tested hits. Some cooks add a little olive oil. For a hint of sweetness add a few tablespoons orange juice or half a teaspoon sugar or agave. (Complete this last step no more than an hour or two before serving for the most bold flavors.)