Ceviche Peruano

Do you remember your “first?” It doesn’t really matter the first of what…your first car, first kiss, first apartment…chances are you remember your first fondly. In some cases, your first may even outshine anything subsequent.

My first car is that way. It was a 1964 1/2 Mustang. It had no A/C, the windshield wipers had two speeds (too fast and too slow : i.e. one speed), and it went through transmissions the same way I go through a package of Little Debbie Zebra Cakes (Ford used three different transmissions that first year of production, none of them designed to actually match up with the engine).
But it was perfect. It had the original radio and was painted the original Rangoon Red–a real classic. It may have lacked a bunch of gadgets, but I could still get out there and adjust the timing by moving the distributor cap. What it may have lacked in newer-model accessories, it made up in simplistic coolness.
So it is with ceviche. My first was in Peru, and nothing can ever top it. Unlike Guatemalan or Mexican ceviche, ceviche peruano is very simple: fish, sweet potatoes, corn, onions. It is light and refreshing, and not at all over-complicated. Other ceviches may be good, but ceviche peruano is simply the best.
Ceviche Peruano
What you need:
(serving for four)
3/4 cup lime juice (about 20 key limes)
1 1/2 pounds white fish (anything from basa to mahi mahi)
1 habanero (or more, depending on your heat preference)
2 sweet potatoes
corn (or choclo if you can find it)
red onion
juicer (trust me: you don’t want to hand squeeze 3/4 cup lime juice from key limes)
What to do with it:
The day before, slice about 1/2 of a red onion thin and put in salt water to soak. This will (i) soften up the onion and (ii) take some of the bite out. About an hour prior to serving, dump out the salt water and put in fresh water. Continue soaking until it’s time to eat (this will remove the excess salt).
Get your juice on. Using key limes is important: a limon from Peru is much more acidic than the persian limes we get here in the states. If you use persian limes, expect to almost double your cooking time. Finely mince the habanero (if you can get aji, use that) and place in the lime juice.
Cube your fish into 1/2″ bits. (I used to use red snapper, then I learned a dirty little secret: the restaurants tend to use the cheapest fish they can find. It makes sense, I suppose: you’re pretty much destroying the taste of the fish and replacing it with lime. Obviously, a stronger fish will give you a stronger taste, but for $15 per pound difference, basa tastes just fine.)
Once cubed, place on a cookie sheet and run hot water over it (not hot enough to cook, just hot water out of the tap–all you’re doing is rinsing the fish). Now put your fish in your lime juice. If the juice doesn’t cover the fish, add a bit more. Refrigerate, and stir about every 30 minutes.
For timing purposes, it takes about 3 hours for the juice to cook your fish. So at about 2h 30min, start boiling your sweet potatoes. If you couldn’t find choclo, get your corn ready (you’re going to make corn on the cob, microwaved, boiled, or whatever floats your boat).
If you did find choclo, drop a little (1 tsp) butter and some kosher salt (2 tsp) in a pan and sautee until golden brown. (In Peru, the corn is actually pithy, like pop corn. I haven’t figured that out, yet… Maybe I need to try dried choclo.)
Plate by slicing the sweet potato in 1″ wheels, add your fish, onions and corn. Give everyone a shot of the leche de tigre (the juice left over from the fish and limes) prior to eating. Serve with a bit of hot sauce (such as Cholula) and Cristal beer (or another lager).

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