Eric Akis: Latin American ceviche, B.C. style

Eric Akis

If you’re looking for a bright-tasting, light and pretty seafood dish to serve on a warm summer day, it’s hard to go wrong with ceviche.

I was reminded of that last weekend at the B.C. Seafood Festival in Comox. I took a class on making ceviche presented by Shelome Bouvette, chef and co-owner of Chicha restaurant (chicharestaurant.com) in Vancouver. Bouvette’s eatery serves modern versions of Peruvian dishes, including several varieties of fabulous ceviche, which made her a great person to teach a class.

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Also joining Bouvette on the cooking stage was Nathan Fong, executive chef/producer of the festival, who also provided insights on making ceviche.

Ceviche, pronounced “seh-VEE-chay,” also spelled seviche, is a Latin American dish first prepared in places such as Peru, Mexico and Ecuador and now enjoyed around the world.

It’s made by soaking raw fish or seafood in a marinade that’s primarily citrus juice.

As the fish or seafood sits in the marinade, the acid in the juice “cooks” it, turning it opaque, imparting it with flavour and firming it up until it’s pleasing in texture.

Bouvette made Peruvian-style ceviche with fresh B.C. halibut, which was cut into small pieces.

She first marinated the fish in a lime-juice mixture, then mixed in a bit of Peruvian Rocoto red-hot pepper paste, which came in a jar. It’s hard to find here, so Bouvette told the class that you could substitute a hot pepper sauce, such as green (jalapeño-flavoured) Tabasco.

Another thing that made her Peruvian-style ceviche different from other types I’ve seen is that the fish was only marinated for 15 to 30 minutes. By contrast, in the fish ceviche recipe found in Diana Kennedy’s classic book The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, the fish is marinated for about three hours in a lime-juice mixture.

Fong and Bouvette both said the longer the fish or other seafood sits in the marinade, the more “cooked” it becomes, which could cause it to toughen, which is why they preferred a shorter marinating time.

The last thing that made Bouvette’s ceviche different from others I’ve tried was the foods she accompanied it with. They included cooked, cold pieces of yam and corn on the cob, as well as toasted, crunchy kernels of Peruvian cancha corn.

When plated, the end result was a beautiful dish of ceviche with a world of flavour and an interesting mix of textures. Bouvette said the ceviche could also be made with other types of fish, such as the tuna I used in the recipe she inspired me to create. In my recipe, I also substituted toasted corn nuts for the Peruvian cancha corn she used.

B.C. Albacore Tuna Ceviche with Yam and Corn

This colourful, flavourful ceviche is Peruvian in style and offers a range of interesting textures and tastes. Served it as an appetizer or light lunch or dinner.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Marinating time: 15 to 30 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1 medium yam

1 cob of corn, shucked and cut, widthwise, into eight pieces

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (see Note 1)

2 tsp agave syrup or honey (see Note 2)

1/2 to 1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as green (jalapeño-flavoured) or regular Tabasco

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

350 grams boneless, frozen B.C. albacore tuna loin, thawed and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes (see Note 3)

3/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced (divided, see Note 4)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

10 cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 medium to large leaf lettuce leaves

2 to 3 Tbsp toasted corn nuts (optional, see Note 5)

4 lime wedges and 8 cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Place the yam, unpeeled, in a pot and cover with cold water. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring water to a slow simmer. Adjust the heat downward to maintain that simmer. Cook yam until it’s tender and you can easily insert the tip of paring knife into the centre of it, about 25 to 30 minutes. When tender, lift yam out of the pot, set on a small plate and cool to room temperature.

While yam cools, bring the water in the pot you cooked it in to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the corn and cook until bright yellow and just tender, about three minutes. Lift the corn out of the water, set on a large plate and cool.

When yam has cooled, carefully peel it, then cut, widthwise, into eight rounds. Set the rounds of yam on the plate with the corn. Cover both and keep refrigerated until ceviche is ready. They can be prepared many hours before needed.

To make ceviche, combine the lime juice, agave syrup (or honey), half the red onion, hot pepper sauce and salt in a medium glass or other non-reactive bowl. Mix in the tuna. Push down on the tuna to submerge it in the lime-juice mixture. Cover, refrigerate and marinate for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the fish has turned opaque and appears cooked from the acid in the lime-juice mixture.

Drain and discard half the liquid in the bowl. Gently mix the chopped cilantro and tomatoes into the tuna ceviche.

To serve, line four shallow bowls each with a lettuce leaf. Divide and mound some tuna ceviche in the centre of each bowl. Divide and sprinkle ceviche with the toasted corn nuts, if using. Arrange two pieces of yam, two pieces of corn and the remaining red onion around the ceviche. Garnish each serving of ceviche with a lime wedge and two cilantro sprigs and serve.

Note 1: You’ll need five or six large limes to get the juice and wedges required for this recipe.

Note 2: Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is sold in the bottled-syrup aisle of most supermarkets.

Note 3: B.C. albacore tuna loin is sold frozen at seafood stores, such as Finest at Sea (finestatsea.com) in Victoria. It can also be found at Japanese food stores and some supermarkets. It is easier to cut into clean cubes if you do so when the tuna is still a little bit frozen. This type of tuna loin is considered sushi/sashimi grade fish, because it has been kept frozen long enough to destroy parasites that might be present in it.

Note 4: You can use a mandolin or handheld slicer to thinly cut the onion. If the onion is very strong tasting and smelling, to mellow it out before using it, soak it in cold water 10 minutes, then drain very well.

Note 5: Toasted corn nuts, which are toasted corn kernels, are sold in bags at many supermarkets. I used Dan-D-Pak brand.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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