If you’re looking for a no-cook recipe perfect for summer, ceviche is a fantastic option. The light, bright, summer seafood dish is only “cooked” by acidic ingredients like lime juice, and is usually full of refreshing veggies. Here, everything you need to know about making ceviche.
What is ceviche?
Simply put, it’s raw fish or other seafood (like squid, octopus, scallops, or shrimp) that is marinated in lime juice or other acidic ingredients until the flesh becomes firm as the proteins react to the acids, then served with diced vegetables like onions, tomatoes, and avocados.
Back in my wild and youthful restaurant days, I worked at a place that was something of a free for all of Mexican street foods. There were plenty of tacos and tamales to go around, as well as the obligatory tableside guacamole. But if you asked me, the real draw there was the made-to-order ceviches. In contrast to the spice-laden moles or slow-cooked barbacoa, they quietly made the case that stark freshness, in some cases, can be a thousand times more poetic than a bunch of heavy-handed kitchen cookery.
The only problem with the ceviches was that inevitably—I mean at least once a night—a table would order one, only to erupt with confusion as the plate arrived. “Wait, ceviche is raw fish?” they’d exclaim. “I don’t do raw fish.” And back to the kitchen it would go.
If I was feeling especially feisty, I’d counter that ceviche isn’t exactly raw. It might not be set over a blazing fire, but it does go through an acidic marinade that transforms the flesh much in the same way that heat does. My guests usually didn’t appreciate my snark and would ask to speak to a manager right after that.
That fine point of cooking semantics may have been my downfall then, but it’s now one that I celebrate. Because there is a certain beauty to a piece of fish or seafood that has all the oceanic qualities of sushi or crudo, yet the silky, firm texture of an expertly cooked fresh catch. It’s a magical beauty worth replicating at home.
How do you make the best ceviche?
Once you’ve got a grasp on a few essentials, ceviche is one of the simplest dishes you could make. It also ranks pretty high up there on the “wow” factor.
To start, you’ll need extremely fresh fish or seafood—since both spoil at a pretty fast rate, even in cold temperatures, this is key. Not just for the sake of taste, but safety, too. Barring your own straight-from-the-waters catch, go for stuff from a trusted source that keeps their product well iced and/or refrigerated. As a general rule, the flesh should be firm and somewhat translucent, lacking any distinct smell other than a bit of ocean.
If you’ve got a big chunk of fish, you’ll need to think about how you want to cut it. Some fish, especially firmer-fleshed species like tuna, can be diced into small cubes. If you’ve got a more delicate white fish, however, try slicing it into thin, sashimi-style pieces. You don’t want to go paper-thin, however, or your ceviche will “cook” pretty quickly. Somewhere in the ballpark of a quarter of an inch should do just fine.
Pretty much all ceviche recipes call for an acidic marinade (typically, some sort of citrus juice, although vinegar is common as well), but the amount of time that your ceviche will need to spend marinating depends on what type of fish or seafood you’re dealing with (this can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours). It’s the acid that unravels the flesh’s proteins—these “denuded” strands feel the need to cover up, so they shield each other by bonding together, creating a tighter and more opaque outer surface. While the time required to achieve this effect varies, generally, what you’re going for are pieces of seafood that have lost their translucency on the surface and firmed up a bit, but still have a hint of rawness in the center. They shouldn’t be stiff, chalky, or flaking apart: these are all signs that your ceviche has drifted off into well-done territory (see, even ceviche can be overcooked, just like meat!).
You could ostensibly use any sort of fish or seafood for ceviche, although it’s generally recommended that you steer clear of certain oily fish like bluefish or freshwater species like catfish and trout because of their increased risk of spoilage and parasites. Other than that, it’s pretty simple, and extremely delicious.
For further inspiration, check out these nine ceviche recipes for summer.
This traditional Veracruz-style ceviche mixes mild snapper and scallop with slices of green olive, which punctuate the dish with hints of brininess. Get our Ceviche Tostadas recipe.
These shrimp are poached ever so briefly before soaking in a mixture of lemon and lime juices. Their plump texture is complemented by the addition of crisp cucumber and tender avocado. Get our Shrimp Ceviche recipe.
If you prefer your primary colors, however, this summery watermelon and tomato ceviche will have you seeing red (and maybe orange, yellow, or purple if you get a mix of heirloom tomatoes). Get our Halibut Ceviche with Watermelon recipe.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one type of seafood per ceviche—mix it up! This spicy, Sriracha-accented recipe can be made with scallops, tilapia, or whatever your freshest catch of the day is. Get our Spicy Sriracha Ceviche recipe.
A little bit spicy and a whole lot fruity, squid ceviche takes nicely to the sweet flavors of mango and grapefruit as well as the fragrant lift of curry powder. Avocado halves make great edible bowls that add a creamy element. Get our Curried Calamari Ceviche with Mango and Avocado recipe.
If you’re a fan of leche de tigre, the spicy marinade used in traditional Peruvian ceviche, you’ll love this West African shrimp variation too. It combines fresh ginger and habanero (leave the seeds in for even more kick) with cilantro and lime juice and is perfect with sweet potato chips or plantain chips. Get our West African Shrimp Ceviche recipe.
This sort-of-deconstructed-ceviche is not far off from a poke bowl, except instead of rice, there are zucchini noodles, and the garnishes, including a creamy citrus-avocado dressing, are also different. But it’s delicious (and Whole30-friendly), and requires no cooking, and that’s all you really need to know. Get the Citrus Tuna Ceviche Bowl recipe.
Quibble with calling this ceviche if you want to, but again, the important points are that it tastes great and is a quick, no-cook recipe that’ll save you from sweating any more than you already have. The vegan seafood stand-in here is hearts of palm, which also make a pretty good vegan lobster roll. Get the Vegan Ceviche recipe.