A classic ceviche turns fresh fish into a stunning appetizer. For the recipe, red snapper marinates in freshly squeezed citrus juice then mixes with a medley of chopped vegetables and fruit. This dish is best served with tortilla chips or tostadas for extra crunch!
The first time I tried ceviche was on a deep-sea fishing excursion in Panama. The captain made us a quick lunch on the boat with our fresh catch. He quickly chopped up the fish, squeezed some lime juice on top, and tossed it with ripe tomatoes and onions. I wanted to recreate this amazing dish at home for a light appetizer to enjoy during these warm days.
The nice thing about this dish is you don’t have to fire up the stove. Just grab a knife and cutting board and you are set. For my version, I use chopped pieces of red snapper, marinated in a trio of juices. I like to add a variety of crisp and creamy produce to make a colorful and flavorful dish. Add generous scoops on top of tostadas for an easy lunch or dinner, or an irresistible sharable dip with chips.
What is ceviche?
Ceviche is thin slices or small cubes of fresh raw seafood soaked in an acidic citrus marinade to cook the dish instead of using heat. Different types of seafood can be used like white fish, scallops, or crustaceans for shrimp ceviche, or a mixture.
The important thing to look out for is the change of the flesh from being translucent to opaque as it marinates in the acid. Mix-ins like tomatoes, avocado, bell pepper, crunchy cucumber, and radish, or spicy hot sauce or chile peppers can be used to customize the dish. It has Latin American origins especially popular in Peru, but each region has its own unique twist.
For ceviche use the freshest saltwater firm white fish you can purchase like red snapper, halibut, sea bass, grouper, or flounder. Don’t be afraid to ask the fish market what’s their freshest catch and mention that you’ll be using it for ceviche.
Avoid purchasing freshwater or codfish as they may be more susceptible to parasite infection. It’s very important to use a high-quality fresh fish that has a subtle saltwater smell, translucent, and a firm flesh. If you notice a strong fishy aroma or mushy texture, the unpleasant attributes will carry into the dish.
Keep the fish cold!
After purchasing the fish, wrap it in plastic wrap or place in a resealable bag. Place it in a bowl with ice or ice packs above and below to keep it super cool and to delay the breakdown of the flesh. Fish stored below 40°F (4°C) helps to inhibit microbial or parasitic growth. Sometimes refrigerators can creep up in temperature, so check the thermostat. I recommend making the recipe the same day so that the flavor stays clean and texture solid.
Using frozen fish
If consuming raw seafood, the FDA recommends purchasing frozen fish that’s had a chance to kill parasites, but note that it doesn’t eliminate all the harmful microbes [Source]. Generally, from a quality and texture standpoint frozen fish is not ideal because once the ice defrosts, the muscle structure can become less firm and slightly more mushy.
Although for ceviche, since the fish is being chopped up into smaller pieces, the noticeable difference in texture may not be detected as much compared to eating larger slices of raw fish in dishes like Crudo or sashimi.
The exterior should turn opaque and off-white in color, however, the center can be slightly translucent like raw sashimi or it can be completely opaque. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes up to 2 hours. Marination time is dependent on how thin the fish is cut.
I use a combination of freshly squeezed lime juice, lemon juice, and orange juice. Within minutes of adding the chunks of raw fish to the acidic juices, you’ll notice an appearance change on the surface. How long the ceviche should be marinated depends on how you like the texture.
How does the acid cook the fish?
To be clear, there is no actual cooking with heat happening. The high concentration of acids in limes and lemons help to cook the fish as it marinates. Citric acid naturally contained in the fruit denatures and unravels the fish protein, then coagulates and compacts them together.
You’ll notice that the flesh begins to turn opaque on the surface and gets more firm in texture. It’s a delicate process that retains the mild flavor of the seafood. To test, cut a cube down the middle to see the contrast in color.
How to make ceviche
Chop the fish into ¼ to ½-inch cubes, the smaller the size the quicker the marination time and more evenly cooked through it will be. Marinate in the citrus juice, making sure that the pieces are completely submerged. Make sure to stir halfway through the process to ensure the surface is coming into contact with the juices for even soaking.
The fish is ready once the surface is opaque, and it’s up to you if you like a slightly raw center or completely firm, marinate longer for the latter. Stir in the fresh citrus juices, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, spicy peppers, avocado, salt, and pepper, then serve the same day for the best taste.
Is ceviche safe to eat?
There’s always a risk when consuming raw fish, but you can take precautions. It’s imperative that the fish is extremely fresh or purchased frozen and properly defrosted in the refrigerator to reduce the risk of microbial pathogens and parasites. The low acidity of lemons and limes (pH below or equal to 2.5) reduces microbial numbers in the raw fish, but not all like heat does. Keep the prep area clean, avoid cross-contamination, prepare, and eat the same day. Avoid eating ceviche if you’re immunocompromised or pregnant [Source].
- 1 pound (454 g) red snapper, halibut, sea bass, grouper, or flounder, skin removed
- 1 cup (240 ml) lime juice, divided
- ¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice, divided
- ¼ cup (60 ml) orange juice, divided
- 1 cup (157 g) diced tomatoes, seeds removed, ¼-inch dice
- ½ cup (60 g) red onion, thinly sliced, 1/16-inch thick, 1-inch long
- 2 tablespoons (6 g) chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) minced jalapeno, seeds removed
- 1 teaspoon (1 g) lime zest
- 1 cup (152 g) diced avocado, ½-inch dice (about 1 large avocado)
- ¾ teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Cut the snapper filets into ½-inch cubes, there should be about 2 cups of diced fish. For a quicker cook, cut fish into ¼-inch cubes. Transfer fish to a non-reactive medium bowl, like glass or ceramic.
- Add ¾ cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons orange juice to the bowl. The fish should be submerged in the juices. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator until the surface is opaque, about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir halfway through for even cooking. Drain the juices.
- To the drained fish, add ¼ cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons orange juice, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime zest, avocado, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired.
- Serve the ceviche with chips or on top of tostadas.
- Recipe Yield: 4 cups
- Serving Size: ½ cup
- Marinating: For ½-inch sized cubes, marinating takes about 20 to 30 minutes for a firm surface but tender center, or 45 to 60 minutes for a more solidified texture. For the acidity to completely firm up the center, about 1 ½ to 2 hours is enough time. For a quicker soak, chop the fish into ¼-inch size cubes, and after 20 minutes taste a piece every 5 minutes. Cut the cubes of fish in half to check for doneness.
- Enjoy the ceviche within one day of preparing the dish for the best taste.