How to Make Perfect Ceviche

Mj 618_348_how to make perfect ceviche
Photograph by George Apostolidis

Spicy and cool, ceviche is a Peruvian seafood dish you can replicate at home in minutes with restaurant-quality results. All it takes is sashimi-grade white fish, fresh lime juice, chilies, red onions, sweet potato, corn, a little cilantro, and a quick but sure tiger’s milk marinade. In Peru, ceviche is eaten as a bright, refreshing lunchtime appetizer (never at night) or a beachside snack with a cold beer like Cusqueña pale lager.

It’s a centerpiece dish of the gorgeous La Mar casual restaurant that opened in March at the Mandarin Oriental Miami, the latest of 32 restaurants in the burgeoning empire of Peruvian master chef Gastón Acurio. His point guard in Miami is chef Diego Oka, who at 31 has already opened seven restaurants for Acurio in Latin America and the United States.

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Fittingly, Oka, a third-generation descendant of Japanese immigrants to Peru, takes great care with the fish. He blast-freezes fresh fluke in-house according to FDA standards (at least -31° for 15 hours) to kill the parasitic anisakis worm prevalent in wild, ocean-raised white fish, particularly in such species as cod, halibut, and monkfish. Fortunately, flash freezing doesn’t toughen or waterlog the skin and flesh the way slower freezing can. So, although ceviche fish appears completely fresh, it has been blast-frozen to protect the consumer. 

Below, Oka shares his basic recipe for spectacular ceviche. When making ceviche at home, ask your fishmonger for sashimi-quality fish that’s been blast-frozen. You can add a few things to Oka’s recipe, say, celery or scallions, to make it your own. But keep it simple and serve it on a pretty, well-chilled plate or bowl. Chilling is key, says Oka, who keeps all the ingredients, dishes, and bowls for his ceviche in the walk-in fridge. Let the big chill, the fish, and the beguiling lime marinade construct Oka’s elegant vision of a classic ceviche.

Diego Oka’s Classic Ceviche
Yield: 2 servings as an appetizer

3.5 oz fluke (or flounder), cubed
Juice of 1 fresh lime
2 oz leche de tigre (see recipe below)
Red habanero chile, small dice
1 oz red onions, julienned
Garnish: camote (boiled and sliced sweet potato), choclo (boiled fresh sweet-corn kernels), (optional) cancha (corn nuts: Peruvian corn fried in vegetable oil at 300° for 5 minutes until kernels pop slightly, without puffing, and become crunchy), and small pieces of micro cilantro.

In a bowl, mix fish, salt, habanero, lime juice, and leche de tigre (the “tiger’s milk” marinade). Add the onions. Serve mixture immediately in a mountain shape, placing red onion on top. Don’t let the fish remain in the marinade more than a few minutes; any longer and the marinade may turn the fish mushy or cause it to fall apart. Decorate the base with sweet potato slices, sweet corn, and, if desired, fried corn nuts. Scatter cilantro over all.

Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s Milk Marinade)
2.5 oz white fish (fluke or flounder) 
8 oz fresh lime juice
4 oz fish stock
1 oz celery
1 oz heart of onions
1/2 oz cilantro
1/2 clove garlic
1 1/4 oz ice
1/4 tsp ají limo chile (or habanero)
1 3/4 tsp salt

Mix lime juice and fish stock. Blend the lime-stock mixture with ice and celery at 2 speeds. Add fish and blend at 3 speeds to integrate completely. Add onions, ají limo chile, cilantro, salt, garlic, and blend for 10 seconds. Strain and blend again. Refrigerate leftover marinade or serve, as Peruvians do, alongside the ceviche in a small glass to drink it.

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