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Ceviche in all its guises: Peruvian cuisine is pure creativity.
When we think of Peru, Machu Picchu and pan pipes immediately spring to mind. After that, our knowledge becomes just as hazy as the air in the Andes. However, Peru is not just an exciting country – it is also incredibly diverse in terms of its culture, climate and cuisine. Peru's climate in particular makes for a wide variety of foods that can be processed in creative ways.
Arturo Rubio believes that cuisine from all around the world originated in Peru. The chef and owner of the popular restaurant Huaca Pucllana in the capital, Lima, loves talking about Peruvian cuisine. In a 2008 interview with Bon Appetit, he said: «Every great culinary tradition on earth owes a debt to Peru. No chocolate in Switzerland. No potatoes in Ireland. My God, it was Portuguese traders who brought South American chillies to the Asian subcontinent; there would be no curry in India. No spices in Thailand!»
It may sound like an exaggeration, but there is certainly an element of truth in there. Peru didn't just find itself a permanent place in our European diet thanks to its potato varieties (even sweet potatoes originate in the South American country) and cocoa. Avocado and quinoa are two more foods that originate in Peru – and both are popular ingredients for health-conscious foodies. But avocado on toast and chocolate aren't all that Peru has to offer. In terms of cuisine, Peru – which also has fantastic fishing grounds thanks to the cold Humboldt Current and the Amazon – is actually famous for one food in particular: ceviche!
Colloquially, ceviche could be called raw fish. It is made using a combination of salt, garlic, onions and hot Peruvian chillies, and is marinated in lime juice. In the country's typical cevicherias, you can enjoy Peru's national dish in dozens of varieties: with a splash of milk or orange juice, or topped off with passion fruit or celeriac – the combinations are endless.
Despite first impressions, ceviche is not a real dish – it actually refers to the method of preparing raw fish, which is «cooked» with acid – usually lemon and/or lime juice – without being poached or grilled. This process is known as the «denaturation of proteins». The acid changes the structure of the proteins in the fish and turns the flesh white.
If you want to prepare ceviche at home, you should really use freshly-caught fish. However, if you take a quick glance at the rental prices of moorings on the shore of Lake Zurich, you'll probably be wondering whether it's really worth going fishing yourself. If you can't get hold of freshly-caught fish, you don't have to forgo ceviche – the fish counter is a good alternative. When purchasing, price is not always the best marker of quality – it's best to check that the fish still has red gills, the eyes are clear and moist, and the flesh looks slightly transparent. Then you can be sure that it's good quality fish.
There are a wide variety of ceviche recipes available, and you can be just as creative when it comes to choosing the fish for it. In fact, most types of fish are suitable, although mackerel and sardine are too fatty. Sea bream, flounder and cod are particularly good choices, but even salmon or tuna can work really well in ceviche.
But ceviche doesn't stop at just fish: seafood and shellfish are also popular. In Peru alone, even black oysters, crab and lobster make it into ceviche. Prawns and scallops also make excellent choices. In some parts of Peru you will even find chicken ceviche, but it goes without saying that you should only try this at your own risk. The «cooking» method used in ceviche doesn't protect against possible salmonella infections.
In Peru, typical accompaniments include a slice of sweet potato, boiled cassava and a small cob of corn. But as ceviche appears to have no limits, the options here, too, are endless. Some offer tortilla crisps and beer, while others recommend enjoying the dish without any accompaniments at all. In Ecuador, ceviche is eaten with plantain crisps. Lettuce, boiled potatoes and rice are other options. But ceviche even makes a good topping for a slice of toast. How do you eat your ceviche?
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