Certain foods evoke more than just the sum of their ingredients and the flavor that’s created from them. Eating raw fish, as example, could (and probably should) mean you’re somewhere near an ocean. If you’re near an ocean, there is potential for a beach, too, and if there’s a beach, there’s a distinct possibility it’s warm and you’re sipping white wine or cocktails, listening to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and living your best damn life.
Two of the most wonderful raw(ish) seafood dishes one should always consider slotting into any such scenario, are ceviches and seafood tartares. But what exactly is the difference between the two? Where did they come from? And when you’re not at an all-inclusive resort on the coast of Peru, how does one make them?
Often served as appetizers, both are comprised of raw (or mostly raw) fish which is diced, seasoned, and mixed with citrus, herbs, soy sauce, and/or other binders and served with various vessels for delivery including potato crisps, corn chips, and crackers. Seafood tartare, a derivation of the classic French steak or beef variety, is commonly served completely raw while ceviche, of South and Central American descent, is denaturalized or “par-cooked” ever so slightly by a citrus marinade. There are no firm rules as to which seafood is used but some, like tuna, snapper, shrimp, salmon, sea bass, and certain shellfish, fare better than others.
Ceviche and tartare are, at once, a dish and a method for preparation, creating something of a blank canvas for their creators. Because ceviche (pronounced “suh–vee-chey”) or “cebiche” was born in the Pacific coastal regions of Latin America (it’s Peru’s national dish, in fact), it is often laced with chili pepper, tomato, tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, and other bright flavors and bold spices. Though a classic French steak tartare features Western flavors like egg and Worcestershire sauce, sushi’s impact on global cuisine has jolted a flurry of Asian-inspired seafood tartares with soy, sesame, green onion, and other Eastern flare; a glimmering example of global fusion gone right.
Because ceviche is “cooked” or “cured” in citrus, the type of fish used is of somewhat greater importance than in its Franco-Asian counterpart. Chef Adam Nadel, who heads the new al fresco seafood spot The Golden Hour, in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, urges the use of something semi-firm like the American red snapper he cures in charred Seville orange juice with parsley, chile, and olive oil. “Soft fish will just get mealy, so [use] anything firm with bold flavors that can stand up to acid and citrus.” Time is also to be considered—more than 20 minutes of marination or less than 10 can yield unsavory results.
Tartare is a bit more of a ‘“dealer’s choice” when choosing the fish but tuna and salmon have become two of the most popular, due to their rich flavors and meaty texture. Tartare is named for the “tartar” sauce its beefy older brother was often served with, but modern seafood adaptations are more commonly mixed with soy, citrus, and bright herbs and served with rice crackers, tortilla chips, or simply over greens or avocado.
There are endless variations on ceviche and seafood tartare recipes; enough to see you through a thousand summers. Light and bright, they make for perfect poolside or patio eats and the method lends itself to the experimentation of flavor and fish. But since we’re talking raw, it should go without saying: The fresher the better. It’s also worth noting the denaturalization process may be similar to cooking but does not rid fish of bacteria. If all else fails and you find you just aren’t the raw fish type of guy or gal, do as Mark Bittman suggests in his 2002 New York Times article and just cook the stuff. We won’t tell.
Here are some recipes to get you started:
A classic shrimp ceviche with Mexican influence is mixed with avocado and served with tortilla chips. Get our Shrimp Ceviche recipe.
An orange juice marinade used in this snapper ceviche will net a slightly sweeter dish. Get our Snapper Ceviche with Chiles and Herbs recipe.
Razor clams won’t wilt or mush in the face of acidic lime juice in this version of ceviche. Get the recipe.
This tuna tartare from BLT Steak is worth making at home and combines a sweet-hot sauce with crunchy shallots. Get BLT Steak’s Tuna Tartare with Avocado and Crispy Shallots recipe.
Use fresh quality sockeye salmon and lots of fresh herbs for this tartare. Get our Sockeye Salmon Tartare recipe.
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