For the last four months I have been living in Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), Guatemala. When I am not working or drinking quetzalteca especial, the vast majority of my activities revolve around food: I spend as much time as possible at the market, sampling street food, and experimenting in the kitchen. Because life here is generally much cheaper than in the states, even with my below-Guatemalan-minimum-wage salary I am able to cook, eat and drink in ways I could only dream about before moving to Xela.
A mainstay of my diet here--which has become somewhat of an obsession for me--is ceviche. It is sold everywhere, from very economical street carts to exclusive, private restaurants with no name, and you can spend anywhere from 15 to 100 quetzales on a single serving.
I often grab a plastic cup from a street vendor at the market on my way to work, or go to my favorite cevicheria in Xela (La Famosa 23) for lunch between running errands, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that Saturday and Sunday mornings mean ceviche and micheladas with friends--- a combination that is widely considered the best quitagoma (hangover cure) ever. For me, the beauty and magic of ceviche is how there are so many different variations on something so simple: fresh seafood that has been “cooked” --- generally by bathing it in lime juice, but sometimes by other methods--- and then mixed with a variety of other veggies and herbs.
Different countries are known for their different takes on ceviche (for example, Peruvian ceviche is unique for being a “white” ceviche, without tomato), but even just within Guatemala the variations are astounding. This past month my boyfriend and I made 4 ceviches (we had a few parties on the coast, where the fresh fish is just begging to be made into ceviche), and each one was completely different. We played with the tomato factor, using red tomatoes and excluding them, and using miltomate, the small, tart green tomato known as tomatillo in the States. In addition to the almost requisite cilantro, we added hierba buena (mint), and experimented with different sauces and different kinds of chile. Many ceviches have salsa dulce, which is basically ketchup, mixed in with salsa inglesa, which is almost always included, and is supposedly Worcestershire sauce but tastes different to me. We’ve made it with and without salsa dulce, and also tried adding a bit of soy sauce, which we found really added to the complexity of the dish. We did a version using only shrimp, and also a combination of shrimp with fish (we used shark, which is silky and firm and perfect for ceviche). At La Famosa 23 they do an amazing ceviche mixto with shrimp, fish, and the freshest heads of calamari, tiny, tender octopus, and baby mussels.
I was intimidated at first by the idea of making ceviche, but I quickly fell in love with the process. It doesn’t require much, but it is incredibly rewarding for the chef and ridiculously impressive to whoever is lucky enough to attend the quitagoma. I found that filleting a fish is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in the kitchen, and the process that takes place when you bathe raw fish in lime juice for a few hours in the fridge is nothing short of magical.
So, in the spirit of the holidays, I gift you this recipe, which Negro and I came up with by frequenting as many cevicherias and street carts as we could manage and experimenting with our own versions in the kitchen. Ceviche might not seem like the most holiday-season appropriate dish, but I strongly encourage you to try it. Make one for your next brunch, serving it in little bowls with tostadas, crackers, and some ice-cold micheladas alongside, or serve it as an appetizer on top of mini tostadas at a cocktail party.
Or, make the most basic version possible, and create a ceviche bar where people can add the sauces, herbs, and spice to their liking. Most people here in Guatemala eat ceviche in the morning or early afternoon, but my personal opinion is that it is almost always appropriate to make and eat ceviche, regardless of season or time of day. I hope you’ll try our recipe and invent your own, and get to experience the many joys of making, serving, and eating ceviches! Buen provecho!
created by Hannah Jane Ahern and Negro Cárdenas (Xela)
3 lbs of raw, unpeeled shrimp, heads removed
2 lbs raw shark meat
approx. 5 lbs of limes-- you’re going to juice them, and there needs to be enough juice to cover all of the raw shrimp and fish.
1 or 2 lbs. of tomatillos, (aka miltomate) peeled. If you can find the little kind known as criollo or creole, use them!
3 large red tomatoes
2 large white onions
2 cups of cilantro leaves
1 cup mint leaves
1 small bottle of Worcestershire sauce - use as little or as much as you'd like
3 tblsp. soy sauce
1/2 cup ketchup, optional
your choice of chile picante or hot sauce, to taste. *In guatemala we use tiny, green chiles known as chiltepes.
To create the spicy element for the ceviche, I use about a tablespoon of chiltepes, and mash them up with about a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice and salt. Then I discard the chiles, and use the juice that is left over, which is powerfully spicy!
salt and pepper
1. Peel and devein the shrimp, and rinse them off. Place in a very large bowl or pot.
2. Fillet the fish meat. It should come in large, steak-like chunks, sometimes on the bone, and you want to slice it into fillets that are about 3/4 inch thick. Then cut the fillets into cubes. Add the cubes to the same container as the shrimp.
3. Juice the limes directly over the seafood, making sure that you cover the shrimp and
4. Toss a handful of salt into the fish/lime juice mix, and gently stir.
5. Place the seafood mixture in the fridge, and let it marinate and "cook" for 2-3 hours. The shrimp should be pale pink and extremely tender, and the shark meat should firm up and turn an opaque white color.
6. While the shrimp and fish are bathing in the lime juice, dice the tomatillo and tomato, finely chop the onions, and chop the cilantro and mint; place all 5 ingredients in a bowl together.
7. When the seafood is sufficiently "cooked," pull it from the fridge and add the veggie/herb mixture, using a large wooden spoon to gently combine. When mixing the ceviche it's important to do so gingerly, so that all of the individual ingredients remain intact and their flavors can shine!
8. Add the sauces to the seafood/veggie/herb mixture---worcestershire, soy, ketchup, and hot sauce--- tasting and adjusting the "juice" (and the rest of the ceviche) as you go. You really can't go wrong here.
9. Mash 2 of the avocados in a separate bowl, and cut the remaining 4 into cubes.
10. Gently stir the mashed avocado into the ceviche. This, along with the ketchup if you choose to use it, helps bind the whole ceviche together. It's an unconventional step, but extremely delicious, and will give your ceviche a unique and silky texture.
11. Add salt and pepper to taste.
12. Right before serving, stir in the cubed avocados.
13. Dig in!