Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Say What? Ceviche!

There is a fish market in San Pedro, California. It is amazing, but not for the faint of heart. It’s loud, and crowded and not sparkling clean, but it is amazing. I don’t remember how Joe and I came upon the fish market one Saturday morning to find the bustling complex of stalls and cooks. Maybe I wanted to go to just buy a fish for dinner. However we found it, we walked into something we were totally unprepared for.

You can buy whole, filleted, chunks, cooked, combo-ed, basically any imaginable preparation of (or lack thereof) fish at this market. But apparently, what most of the crowd was doing, was eating. So Joe and I quickly abandoned our plans to purchase a fish and take it home. We walked around looking at what people were eating, and smelling what others were cooking. We settled on a promising line, offering trays (yes, cafeteria style plastic trays) piled with all sorts of fish and vegetables.
Most of the fish markets’ clientele were families sitting together at tables on the dock pulling from overloaded trays of food. We needed to be part of that. So we got on line and patiently waited, perusing the menu with pictures above the cooks. Number 1 seemed to be a pile of shrimp with peppers, onions, and potatoes, garlic bread and tortillas. Number two was more of the same with the addition of grilled fish. And on this went up to I believe 8 options. Each larger and more appetizing than the last.

Number 2 is what we settled on, and so what if it was for a family of 4? Joe and I could handle it, with the aid of some gigantic Coronas, the Southern California sun and a Mariachi band roving between the tables. But, what really caught my eye, was the smaller stand in front of the grilled trays of fish offering raw treats. It was like the candy in the grocery store isle and upon checkout, I was pulling at Joe’s shirt and begging to just have one piece.
This is where it does not help to be squeamish. I’m sure everything was perfectly safe to eat, and I did not get sick at all. But the combination of fish smell, high heat and lots of people don’t typically give off a good impression when you are about to eat raw fish. I, however, was undeterred.

We got a cup of ceviche. It had tomatoes, and fish and scallops and shrimp and octopus, cilantro and plenty of lime. They also offered small bottles of San Pedro Fish Market hot sauce, which I happily bought for a dollar to douse on top of my ceviche. In fact that hot sauce was so good, I popped it in my purse and have since moved it across the country to Maine. I ration it out now for only truly special occasions. But if anyone wants to head to San Pedro and pick me up a bottle, I will happily send you the $1 for it.
But I digress. The ceviche was a fantastic combination of cool and spice, refreshing and stimulating. I fell in love. Joe and I went back a few more times to the San Pedro fish market to get whole grilled fishes, more trays of mixed dishes and of course the ceviche. And when we moved away, that was one piece of Southern California I was really going to miss.

So when the opportunity for my office Holiday Potluck arose, I thought I would make ceviche. And not just because I knew no one would have heard of it. I really wanted a little reminder of the sun and mariachis and relaxation this winter.

This turned out a little more like the pico de gallo salsa that I used to make frequently. But I like this version, and it is less scary then a mound of “raw” fish for the uninitiated. The reason I put raw in quotation marks, is because the citric acid in the lime and lemon juices change the protein structure of the raw shrimp to make it seem like it has been cooked (and for all you chemistry folks out there, it really gets denatured, but I didn’t want to get too technical).
Also, I used Maine shrimp for this, as they are running this time of year. But, if you can’t get Maine shrimp (you can order them online from all the places you might order live lobsters from Maine) you can use any small cold water shrimp. The flavor is a bit sweeter and goes well with the citrus and spice. And give yourself plenty of time to let the mixture marinate; at least 6 hours. (I like overnight)

1 pound small cold water shrimp
½ large white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper (I deseeded one half of the pepper, but left the other half intact, you can vary this for the amount of heat you prefer)
4 medium vine ripened tomatoes, quartered
½ seedless cucumber, peeled
1 large bunch cilantro
4 large, juicy limes
1 large lemon
1 tsp. Cumin
½ tsp. Paprika

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and jalapeño and place them into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to break them down. Next add the cilantro, tomatoes, cucumber, salt and pepper and pulse until the tomatoes are chopped into ¼ pieces. Do not over process or you will have a delicious salsa and not a ceviche.

Move this mixture to a bowl and add lime and lemon juice. Peel the shrimp and chop into thirds. Toss the shrimp into the bowl with the other ingredients, add cumin and paprika and stir to combine. Make sure to press all of the shrimp down into the mixture so that they are covered by the liquid.

Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips, or just a spoon.

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