When I travel, it’s pretty much equally for adventure and to eat, and sometimes eating itself is the adventure.
Food can really capture a culture, show you what its people like, what they’re about, how they live. It’s the best way to experience a place, to truly taste it. And as much as I’d like it to be, food is the only souvenir you can’t quite cart home. Unless you learn to make it.
I may not always be traveling, but I am always thinking about food and I’ve decided one way I’ll keep cultures alive is by making the food they eat. So, in honor of Hispanic Heritage month, we’re tasting Peru this week.
For those who don’t know, the best ceviche comes from Peru (and I’m willing to take the flack for this very confident claim).
The best ceviche I’ve had—and I have had it in Peru—is this home recipe below. Here’s how to make it:
1 1/2 lb. cleaned jumbo shrimp
1 filet corvina (2 lbs), cut in chunks
1 lb. fresh, cleaned whole calamari, cut small
1 4 lb. octopus, cut in small pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped finely
2 sliced red onions
1 cup roughly cut cilantro
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 habenero pepper (or more to taste), diced
1 tbsp. salt (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1. Squeeze the juice of 27 limes and put aside.
This is without a doubt, the worst part of making ceviche. Even with a lime squeezer—which doesn’t get all the juiciness out—I was squeezing limes for 20 minutes until my hands were red and frozen in the form of lime squeezing. Tip: get a legit lime squeezer or a strong-handed stud to do it for you.
2. Boil jumbo shrimp in water for a few minutes or until the shrimp turns white. Cut in three parts and set aside.
If only the whole process could be as simple as step 2.
3. Boil octopus on medium-high until tender enough for fork to go through easily.
I’ve always had a thing about eating food when it still looks like the animal it once was, and this is a whole, purple-y octopus. If you’re squeamish, cut it up quickly.
4. Place onions in a small bowl, cover with juice from two limes, add 1/2 tsp salt and let sit for 10 minutes.
If you cut the onions in the wrong direction, everything will just get more complicated. If you cut along the grain, so to speak, you’ll spend less time with your eyeballs on fire.
5. In a large bowl, mix together shrimp, corvina, calamari, octopus, mix in lime juice. Juice should be enough to cover the seafood, so squeeze more as necessary.
Yes. You’ve mostly made it. The most time consuming parts are over and the only thing left is to wait for the lime to start making its magic.
6. Add salt, black pepper, celery, habanero, garlic, onions.
This is the fun part because you get to keep tasting it until it’s just right. And then taste it again just for good measure.
7. Stir gently, then spread mixture flat so that all is covered by lime juice and let sit until fish is white throughout.
Now, you wait. Which really means, make sure the sweet potato and corn are ready, the kitchen is clean so you don’t have to do dishes after you stuff yourself silly and set the table. There’s no rest in ceviche.
8. Serve with sweet potato and boiled corn. And if you’ve got the energy left, the dish is really best accompanied by aguadito de pollo, a Peruvian chicken soup, but that’s a different recipe for a different day.
Time to partake until you’re almost sad you can’t manage a single bite more.
Tip: Chop habanero on top of cilantro to minimize pepper potency.
I was always told that making ceviche is a process, and I had to beg for it on special occasions (like my birthday…and anyone else’s birthday), but I really had no idea. There were three of us in the kitchen working non-stop and it took two whole hours to do the cutting, cooking and cleaning. The reward, though, makes it all worth it.