I’d never had ceviche until this summer, sitting on a patio in the blazing hot sun of the Penticton waterfront, drinking Coronas out of a metal bucket full of ice and beer bottles in a Mexican restaurant. Having tasted it, I was in love. There’s something about a cold, lime-tart dish when the temperature is soaring that is truly delightful. The beer doesn’t hurt either.
As an aside, have you noticed that bars that serve these buckets of Coronas serve you five? My girlfriend Ellen has a perceptive theory. It’s that 5 is a rare combination for a table. 2 people? You’ll need a sixth bottle to even things up. 3 people? Somebody’s short one. Same thing applies to 4. It’s a way to force a follow-up order out of people. However it works, they were pleasant enough on the day we first tried ceviche. And we didn’t begrudge them the extra beer we ordered.
It’s usually served like nachos, with tortilla chips to scoop up the food with. That wasn’t going to be happening at a seven course meal, because the last thing I needed was some random carbs to help fill people up. This needed to be a nice light interlude. However, some sort of tortilla bowl would not only improve the presentation but make up for a distinct lack of dishes at this point in the meal.
It turns out you can make your own tortilla bowls with remarkable ease. You just oil up the underside of some cup or dish – a Pyrex 1 cup measuring cup is ideal – and press down a medium sized tortilla over it, then microwave it for a minute, press it down against the glass again, nuke it for a second minute, and set aside to dry. Voilà! Then you repeat the process until you have three tortilla bowls, at which point you will have burned your fingertips enough to take your fingerprints right off, making you an ideal criminal mastermind.
A better method is to use the next largest size of Pyrex cup to do the pressing down, thus protecting your non-fireproof digits from the heat. It’s probably also a good idea to have two different base plates and alternate between them, again for the avoiding of heat-based pain. Anyway, I churned out 11 of these things on the day of the party, the ceviche having been made the night before.
The trick of ceviche is that it’s a cold dish of fish and onions and peppers, but the fish is cooked by the soaking of it in lime juice. The acid cooks the fish, turning it from clear to white. In an attempt to allude to this in the menu without being too verbose, I described it as “cold-cooked”, which really looks like cold-cocked when you print it out. Really? You punch the fish unexpectedly and knock it unconscious? It turns out no.
Once again I had to do some sorting out of the many recipes on the Internet and some comparison tasting. Some recipes call for lime-searing just the fish, and adding all the chopped vegetables after. Some call for all the ingredients in the lime. I decided that the best results were from soaking the fish, onion, and peppers in the lime juice, then adding the other ingredients just before serving. After making several full-sized ceviches during this testing phase I was afraid that I might get sick of it, particularly since that involves a lot of leftovers, but when the day came it was as tasty to me as I could have hoped. It’s really a hot-weather dish – not just cold but with a refreshing lime pucker factor that gives you a little shiver when you’re out in the sun. But that made it nice follower to the deep-fried rellenos we’d just had.
I suppose it’s confession time – yet another corner was cut here. The recipe calls for trout, and one of my tests even used Steelhead trout (that being the only kind I could get my hands on). It tasted fine, but Steelhead is a very red-fleshed fish; it looks almost like salmon. I personally think ceviche is slightly better with a whitefish. Part of that was purely aesthetic. The other downside to actually using trout was that it came skin on, and so we had to remove the skin ourselves. In the end it wasn’t really aesthetics or taste that was the deciding factor, it was laziness. So what my guests ended up with was the Tully Tilapia, which while not canonical was quite tasty. Je ne regrette rien!
Tully Trout Ceviche
1 lb. fresh trout (or white fish) fillets, cut into ½” pieces
6 limes juiced (better, a never-ending giant bottle of lime juice)
½ green pepper seeded and diced
½ red pepper seeded and diced
1 jalapeño seeded ribbed and minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small avocado, diced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
a handful of cilantro, well torn (or chopped)
coarse salt (optional)
- Add fish, onion, and peppers to a shallow dish.
- Add enough lime juice to cover mixture.
- Place in refrigerator. After one hour, stir mixture.
- Leave for another 4-6 hours, or overnight.
- Drain lime juice.
- Add avocado, tomatoes, oregano and cilantro to mixture. Toss.
- Add salt to taste. Can be served immediately or refrigerated further.
Homemade tortilla bowls
4-6 six-inch (Old El Paso “medium”) soft tortillas
canola (vegetable) oil
microwave-proof cup (Pyrex 1-cup rounded bottom is ideal)
- Place cup upside-down on a plate. Brush bottom with oil.
- Press tortilla down and squeeze edges down around cup. Be careful not to tear the tortilla.
- Microwave on high for 1 minute.
- Press tortilla down again. It will be hot; this is a good opportunity to use another bigger cup to do the pressing.
- Microwave a second time on high for 1 minute.
- Remove and set aside to cool and harden.