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Fish for Compliments 

Ceviche is a tasty, healthy, easy-to-prepare summer dish

click to enlarge Bright and nuanced, the flavor of multiple peppers is tempered cilantro's high note.
  • Bright and nuanced, the flavor of multiple peppers is tempered cilantro's high note.

Low calorie, low fat, low carb ... Rise above these insipid "low-cavore" health foods by seeking inherently healthful (and interesting) international flavors. No summer dish exemplifies these guidelines better than ceviche.

  Traditionally a South American staple, ceviche is fresh, diced fish or shellfish marinated in lime juice and paired with peppers. The fish is "cooked" from its reaction to acid, requiring no heating, frying or oil. Think salsa with fish instead of tomatoes to grasp its versatility and healthfulness.

  "Ceviche is one of the true superfoods. [Like sushi, ] it's one of those foods that's easy to eat, healthy and refreshing," says Edgar Caro, chef-owner of Baru Bistro & Tapas. Caro recently tweaked the four-year-old Latin eatery's ceviche. For his updated recipe, he creates a quick version of tigre de leche (the remaining juice from ceviche — itself a lively hangover cure) in advance to intensify flavor. His secret ingredient, a teaspoon of Sprite, lends sweetness and lift while tempering the peppers' heat. Finally, he uses a very short marinating time. Most ceviche recipes recommend at least 30 minutes to "cook" the fish.

  "The texture is close to a medium-rare steak," Caro says. "In Latin countries, they let ceviche sit (for) a day. (To) me personally, that texture's like a wet paper towel."

  Inspired by Caro's advance-prep tigre de leche (a technique similar to strengthening soup with a base), my version purees a small amount of all ingredients and then adds the fresh ingredients to boost flavor. Serve in its tigre de leche with whole-wheat tortilla chips, or strain the ceviche and use it as a topping for greens. Mix the tigre de leche with oil for a quick salad dressing.



Ceviche with Strawberry and Ancho peppers

Recipe by Russ Lane. Serves 6 as appetizer, 3-4 as a main dish

1 pound fresh sea bass or tilapia, patted dry and cubed into 1/3-inch dice

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 4-5 limes)

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (about two oranges)

1-2 small ancho peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 small jalapeno chile pepper, seeded, stemmed and minced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/2 medium-sized red onion, halved and sliced thin

4 scallions, sliced thin

3 1/2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, minced

1/2 cup Pontchartrain Strawberries, cut into 1/3-inch dice

salt and Ground black pepper to taste

1. Dice, slice, juice or mince each ingredient. Remember to slice strawberries and fish to similar sizes.

2. (Optional for stronger flavor) Puree a small amount of every ingredient (except strawberries and salt and pepper) with a food processor or immersion blender.

3. Place pureed fish mixture into a nonreactive bowl (glass or stainless steel), and add each ingredient except salt and pepper. Let the mixture sit anywhere from 8-30 minutes.

4. Taste mixture and add pepper and salt in small increments, continually tasting. This will avoid unnecessary sodium while maintaining flavor balance.

5. Serve with whole-wheat tortilla chips or pita bread, or drain and serve with salad.

Per serving Serves 6 as an appetizer. Multiply accordingly for larger portions. Salt omitted for personal preference: calories 103, calories from fat 17, fat 2g, cholesterol 31 mg, carbohydrates 7g, dietary fiber 2g, sugars 2g, protein 14g. Vitamin A 41 percent daily value, vitamin C 45 percent daily value, potassium 456mg.



Ceviche tips

Protein: Any fish or shellfish will work for ceviche, but the keyword is fresh. Because ceviche's a no-cook dish, the freshest fish keeps the risk of bacteria to a minimum. If using scallops or shellfish, quickly poacthe fish to ease any contamination concerns. Be sure to thoroughly dry excess water from the fish so the tigre de leche isn't diluted.

Heat: The Peruvian pepper aji amarillo appears in most ceviche recipes, but you can mix and match any combination of peppers and preparation techniques. For example, a roasted poblano paired with finely diced fresh jalapeno provides a complex flavor and contrasting texture.

Acid: Lime juice is traditional. Liven it up with any combination of citrus (lemon, orange, etc.). The more juice, the faster its acids will cook the fish.

Consider Sweetness: Temper the pepper's heat and lime's acid with sweetness to solidify flavors. Try fresh or dried fruit or roasted vegetables (garlic, onion, etc.) Caro uses Sprite in his ceviche, and another chef uses plum to a similar effect.

Texture: A little crispness goes a long way — fresh onion is the simplest way to add contrast, and Peruvian ceviches often feature cooked sweet potato and corn.

More Flavor: Garlic and cilantro are mainstays, but a hint of ginger or celery has potential, too.

Tips: Cut ingredients to similar sizes, and dice the fish finely for fast preparation. Be sure to prepare the ceviche in a nonreactive bowl. This also allows the acid to prepare the fish faster and maintain the dish's freshness. Ceviche can marinate from 10 minutes to one day. The texture changes with duration, so see which texture you prefer.

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