|Ceviche in Ecuador|
Rich, my traveling companion in Ecuador, prides himself on eating just about anything. On principle, he tells the wait staff at restaurants that he’s allergic to boneless chicken breast as a way to rebel against the culinary unadventurous. Bones and dark meat are the flavorful way to go in his book.
What surprised me, then, was that ceviche wasn’t in the cards for him.
|Shucking oysters for ceviche|
I had thought for sure that ceviche, a protein-rich salad of raw seafood “cooked” in lime juice, prepared on the spot from a bright yellow cart on the beach in Ecuador would be something that Rich, a chef and caterer in New York City, would leap for, like a salmon in spring. I was wrong.
“Dude, I am not eating that. I mean, the fish is in those carts all day long without refrigeration. It seems really sketch.”
If Rich wasn’t going to eat ceviche, then I had some explaining to do, not only to him but also to the culinary cautious.
|Adding lime juice to oysters|
I instructed by example. I walked up to my favorite ceviche guy on the beach, the one I had regularly frequented last year, and ordered ceviche mixto, with fish, shrimp, oysters, black clams, and octopus, to which was added fresh lime juice, salt, chopped onions and tomatoes, minced cilantro, and hot sauce. Under a wee bit of shade cast by the cart’s umbrella, I sat on the sand, tucked in, and offered Rich a bite. He took the bait, so to speak.
“Yeah, this is friggin’ delicious.”
More spoonfuls of zippy and refreshing ceviche followed, and neither of us got sick, as Rich had feared.
Of course we didn’t. Sure, there was a chance, as there is whenever you eat raw fish or something from an outdoor cart, but it was unlikely. A guy like my ceviche-wallah is on the beach everyday, and he can’t make a living if he’s making people ill. On top of that, the fish is going to be super fresh if you are right on the coast.
In my travels in South and Central American and in Mexico, those bowls of ceviche, eaten on the beach in Ecuador, were my favorite, topping the dainty parfaits of fish in Panama and the meaty marisco melange served with Saltines in Costa Rica. Peru, however, the presumed birthplace of ceviche, posed a worthy challenge.
|Ceviche Stall at Market|
Ceviche can be considered Peru’s national dish, or at least of its long, arid coast. The Humboldt Current keeps the Pacific hospitably cool for a wealth of fish, and this bounty finds its way into many different expressions of ceviche. On the northern coast in the city of Chiclayo, order a potato croquette with a small side tangle of raw fish at the large outdoor market. At a restaurant near the pre-Incan adobe ruins of the Chimu, also in the north, prepare yourself for the spicy assault from an artistic plate of seafood that will burn your lips and keep your tummy full for hours. Enjoy the cooling and starchy relief of sweet potatoes and yucca that often accompany this fiery, protein-rich meal. Down a side street in Lima, try a variation of ceviche, taradito, which is the Latin version of sashimi: fine, long pieces of raw fish, slathered in a piquant sauce from local chiles. All excellent, but the simple preparation in Ecuador pleased me the most.
|Spicy & beautiful plate of ceviche|
So deliciously suited to hot days by the ocean, ceviche is regrettably hard to find here on the Jersey Shore. And it’s surprising, too, given the number of sushi restaurants. Why not pick up some fresh fish and make your own? Don’t be afraid! Here are some recipes courtesy of Martha Stewart: one with tilapia and the other with bay scallops and key limes. N.B. You can find key limes at Sickles.
Diana Pittet, the culinarily daring cheesemonger