A few years ago, I went to Costa Rica on vacation with three buddies. We went to a smaller place called Playa del Coco, on the Pacific coast, which wasn't as much of a tourist destination as other popular areas. The food was real ethnic and loaded with flavor.
We befriended a lady we called "Momma" who operated a tiny shack on the beach that had a little grill, a cutting board and three weathered bar stools. She told us to bring her whatever we caught when out fishing and diving and that she would take care of the rest. The three or four items she prepared were all tasty, but her ceviche was the one item that blew me away. It was a revelation.
I will never forget that moment, after a long day of fishing, sitting on the sunny beach with three of my best friends enjoying a cold beer and Momma's ceviche. I had not eaten much ceviche prior to the trip and I honestly was a bit scared of it. Momma transformed me from "not a fan" to obsessed with ceviche that day and I have enjoyed eating and tinkering with ceviche recipes ever since.
Ceviche is a popular dish in Central and South America and the Caribbean, consisting of raw fish that is cooked in the acid of lime juice or other citrus. There are a few main keys to making a great ceviche. First, the fish MUST be fresh and it should be a mild flaky white fish like grouper, snapper or mahi mahi. Don't ever settle for frozen fish.
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Second, be sure to let the fish "cook" in the citrus juice long enough, but not too long. Yes, you can overcook fish without using any heat. I think the perfect win
dow for eating my ceviche recipe is between a half hour and three hours after preparation.
Third, follow the recipe in the right steps. Dice the fish, shrimp and tomatoes first and combine with the acids making sure the liquid completely covers the fish and shrimp (I like the tomatoes added with the fish for the additional acid content). Let that sit in a fridge for a half hour before adding the other diced veggies and cilantro. Also, it is important to be a perfectionist when dicing the veggies making sure they're uniform in size. This will ensure consistency and make it easier to eat.
Ceviche is a great way to utilize either the whole filets or just the scraps, if you're fresh off the boat with a nice day's catch. For those that don't catch their own, there are plenty of local markets that carry fresh fish that would make for a perfect hot summer afternoon ceviche.
The recipe I use at enRich is a bit different than Momma's, but equally as tasty and very unique. Be sure to follow the steps and enjoy.
1 pound fresh grouper, diced
1/2 pound shrimp, blanched and diced
1 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
1/2 cup tomato, diced
3/4 cup cucumber, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup pineapple, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, diced
1 small jalapeno diced (or 2 teaspoons of chili paste), optional
1 tablespoon local honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Old Bay
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt (or more as needed)
1/4 cup water (or as needed)
Blanch whole shrimp for about a minute in boiling water, then transfer to ice water to stop the cooking process. When cooled, dice shrimp. Place the diced grouper, shrimp, lime and lemon juice, hot sauce and diced tomatoes in a bowl and refrigerate, making sure the grouper and shrimp are completely covered. Let sit for a half hour then add the rest of ingredients. Serve with tortilla or wonton chips (at enRich we use fresh fried wonton chips).
Chef Rich Knowles, chef/owner of enRich Bistro, can be reached at 941-792-0990 or rich.enrichbistro.com. The restaurant is at 5629 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.