How can a fish not be raw but not be cooked?
No, this isn’t a riddle with a funny punchline. It’s the secret behind what makes ceviche so delicious but also safe to eat. You may have had ceviche before, or this may be the first time you’re seeing the word and you’re wondering how to exactly pronounce it (suh-vee-chey).
Either way you may be thinking, what is ceviche? Don’t worry, at Skull Creek Boathouse we have been serving the best ceviche on Hilton Head Island for a long time and we will fill you in.
First let’s dispel some ceviche myths:
Myth: The fish in ceviche is completely raw,
Truth: Lime juice cooks the fish without heat.
Myth: Consuming lime juice is bad for your stomach.
Truth: On the contrary, lime juice is an alkaline that can help return the over-acidic Western stomach to normal levels of acidity.
What is Ceviche?
Ceviche is seafood prepared using a centuries-old method of cooking by contact with the acid of citric juice instead of heat. It is also spelled seviche or cebiche, depending on which part of South America or Central America it originates from. The preparation and consumption of ceviche is practically a religion in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, and it seems as though there are as many varieties of ceviche as people who eat it.
The chemical process that occurs when the acid of the citrus (usually lime or lemon) comes in contact with the fish is similar to what happens when fish is cooked and the flesh becomes opaque and firm. The acidity in the citrus breaks down the protein in the fish and replicates the process of heat being applied to the fish. This means the fish is “cooked” even though there is no heat involved. It also means that all harmful bacteria are killed.
So where did Ceviche come from?
The origin of ceviche is debatable throughout Central and South America….even all the way to the Polynesian Islands. However, it is widely accepted that ceviche originated on the Pacific coast of Peru nearly 2000 years ago. The Moche civilization that inhabited the area prepared fish with the juice of a local passionfruit known as tumbo. There is also evidence of coastal civilizations of Peru preparing fish with aji (a spicy pepper) and salt.
More recent studies find that ceviche was later enjoyed by the Incas throughout the Andes mountains of Peru. However, the fish was marinated with chicha-an, Andean beverage made from fermented corn.
The preparation of ceviche, as it is known today, came to fruition when Spanish settlers arrived following on the heels of the conquistadors’ conquest of the region. They began importing Mediterranean ingredients, such as lime and cilantro, some 400 years ago.
Thereafter, the popular and widely consumed dish was modified: lime or orange replaced the tumbo or chicha-an and it was topped with fresh cilantro.
Ceviche went through another wave of modifications with the arrival and influence of Japanese settlers. The ingredients remained the same, but the method was altered. Before, the dish was “cooked without heat” for hours.
The Japanese, being so well versed in raw fish by way of national dishes like sashimi and sushi, switched the process by plating the fish immediately after cutting and then smothering it in juices. In many instances, “cooking” was now three to seven minutes.
Chefs in Peru began to shorten the marination time. They found that small chunks of fish bathed in fresh lime juice for a short period made the outside of the fish firm while the inside remained soft and tender.
Besides fish and citrus, what is the essential ingredient in Peruvian style ceviche?
The aji amarillo chili pepper is possibly the most important ingredient in Peruvian cuisine, especially in ceviche.
The aji amarillo pepper is a spicy, South American pepper with vibrant, orange-yellow skin. Since “amarillo” is the Spanish word for yellow and “aji” is the term for chili in South America, this pepper is also appropriately known as the “yellow chili.” The aji amarillo is grown in all areas of Peru.
In terms of hotness, the yellow aji are 40,000 to 50,000 units on the Scoville heat scale. For comparison, the jalapeno is anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000 units. Yet, with its fruity, berry-like flavor it doesn’t leave your mouth burning.
When to order ceviche?
Ceviche can be eaten as a first course or main dish depending on your preferences.
Does Skull Creek Boathouse serve different styles of Ceviche?
The short answer is yes. Peruvian cuisine (birthplace of ceviche) is an amalgam of ingredients and recipes from various influences. Ceviche can be traced from the indegenous peoples of the Andes to the Spanish settlers. Italians, Chinese, West Africans, and Japanese who came to Peru over the centuries also exerted an influence on the dish that shaped and modified it.
Latin American flavors first found a place on Florida menus with South Florida’s “New World Cuisine” in the late 1980s. This cuisine comes from the diverse cooking styles and tropical ingredients of the Caribbean, Latin America, and Central and South America. Chefs became fascinated by the tempting flavors of tropical fruits and vegetables. From this fascination, many versions of Ceviche were developed.
At Skull Creek Boathouse we offer four distinct styles of Ceviche: classic Peruvian, Asian, Latin, and Tropical. All come with nine different seafood options. Our knowledgeable staff will help you with any questions.
You can be assured that whatever style you order it will be a perfectly composed mix of flavors (ranging from spicy to sour) and textures (from soft to tender to crisp). There’s a reason why ceviche has been called “heaven on a plate.”
What can I drink with Ceviche?
Ceviche has a salty, citrusy, acidic bite and lean texture so it makes sense to pair it with a wine that will complement these aspects.
Pinot grigio, riesling, and sauvignon blanc are three wines that have a sweetness that marries well with a spicy ceviche. Another match that you can never go wrong with is Champagne or other sparkling wines.
As for reds, the key is lightness and fruitiness. Big, oaky reds would make your ceviche taste flabby. Stay with a pinot noir, or better yet, consider a rosé. Whatever your choice, our extensive wine list should meet your every need.
Some interesting, fun facts about Ceviche
Ceviche is low in calories and high in protein.
Lady Gaga requests yellowfin ceviche as an afternoon snack while on tour.
Tiger milk is the name given the juice that stays in the plate after eating the fish. In Latin cultures it’s a perfect drink after a “rasca” (that miserable feeling after drinking too much the night before.) Never a misbehavior if you raise the plate with your hands and put it in your mouth to drink it. But you can put in a glass, alone or with some vodka, if you like.
June 28 is National Ceviche Day! While here at Skull Creek Boathouse we like to think that everyday should be National Ceviche Day, there is actually a real holiday to celebrate this wonderful dish. Hope to see you soon, but please come down to the Boathouse on June 28 to celebrate the holiday in style with our famous ceviche. There’s no better way to celebrate!