Yesterday Marconi Beach was closed due to the recent glut of shark attacks. Even Nauset Beach, where we ended up frolicking in the waves, had a few close encounters with seals. The mammals, a favorite for shark lunch, were eerily close enough to shore to have the crowds gather at the edge of the water, squint into the seeable surf for large dark objects and gather up their blissfully ignorant teenagers for a much-needed break from the water, sunscreen reapplication, another stop at the clam shack or any reason really to avoid becoming the next article in the local paper:
“Vacationing child loses right leg in shark attack!”
Call me crazy but all this shark talk just makes me think: CEVICHE! (Okay, so it also makes me think: JAWS! But I’m trying hard not to go there.)
To spice up our yearly summer tradition of caravanning it out to the Cape (and to hopefully keep the bloodbath in the boat not on the beach), we’ve added an annual fishing trip off the coast. This time of year there is legend of 800 lb tuna being caught here and there, but mostly we’re on the hunt for Striper, aka Striped Bass.
Impeccably fresh – as in swimming blissfully like our teenagers just hours earlier – Striper is the perfect fish for making ceviche.
Ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish but also shows up in Mexican, Caribbean, even Japanese cuisine, so different sorts of chile, citrus juice, herbs and vegetables are used to add various flavors. You can make ceviche with any super-fresh fish like tilapia, scallops, octopus, shrimp, mahi mahi or halibut. It’s a combo of fish + citrus + spice + extras to add texture, flavor and possibly cultural reference. What I like to think of as the ‘Juice’ and the ‘Junk’.
One of my favorite versions is the Cebiche Clásico at La Mar in San Francisco, which combines briny chunks of California halibut with big, starchy kernels of Peruvian corn, habanero peppers and something they call “leche de tigre”. Grrr!
My Cape Cod Ceviche is often finalized by what I have or haven’t forgotten to bring in my suitcase (I’m a girl who likes to travel with bags of her garden-fresh herbs and her bottle of yuzu!) and what’s available at the Chatham Market. This sometimes has me tossing in a swack of Cholulah Hot Sauce or a particularly fresh appearing vegetable amidst the lackluster baskets of wilting grocery store stuffs.
And I always pay homage to Nobu’s version of this classic. In general, as with all things fish, I recommend turning to Nobu Matsuhisa for inspiration. Nobu gets his inspiration here from Peru, so it all comes full circle.
Once you get the hang of it, ceviche is ridiculously simple to make.
The only ‘weird’ ingredient here is Yuzu Juice which you can easily omit but which I highly recommend if you have the forethought. Yuzu juice adds this amazing and distinctively tart-n-tangy citrus note to so many yummy things. I will add it to cocktails, jams, desserts, salad dressings, anything that calls for lime or lemon juice. I swear by it. My peeps swoon over it.
I buy yuzu in Japantown or order it on Amazon and it’s one of my must-have pantry staples. And yes, I do often pack a bottle of it in my luggage.
CAPE COD CEVICHE (serves 4 appetizer portions)
4 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp Yuzu Juice (use fresh orange if you forgot to pack your yuzu)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp finely grated garlic
½ tsp grated ginger
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp grated hot chile (jalapeno or habenero)
Nobu recommends adding 1 tsp aji amarillo paste to this marinade but I have yet to figure out what that is much less pack a tube of it in my luggage. Instead I add a dash of Tabasco or Cholulah Hot Sauce.
1. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside.
1/2 lb of super fresh briny fish like Striped Bass, scallops or halibut
a handful of colorful cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/4 small red onion slivered
a handful of finely chopped cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 cup of some other pretty vegetable from your garden or grocery store (carrots, firm avocados and/or cucumbers are perfect choices)
1. Slice the fish into 1/4 inch slices or chunks and put in a mixing bowl. The knives they keep in vacation rental houses never seem to be sharp enough, so if I’ve forgotten my own sharp kitchen knife at home (Yuzu Juice? Check! Cherry jam? Check! Sharp kitchen knife? Oops.), I opt to put the fish into the freezer for about 20 minutes to make it easier to slice neatly. This is a great trick if you don’t already know it!
2. Add the ‘Juice’ to the fish chunks, combine well and throw the bowl in the fridge while you finish your chopping and plating.
3. Chop your pretty vegetable into pretty pieces. Since ceviche is all about color and texture, I think it merits yanking out your imagination and doing something special like curls made with a carrot peeler or scalloped slices. In the end, it don’t really matta – chop the veg into Spongebob Squarepants if you want! Only you will care.
4. Take the bowl of fish back out of the fridge and combine with the rest of the ‘Junk’. As usual, scoop the whole thing in a pretty serving dish. A little Martha Stewart-esque attention to detail and pretty serving dishes makes even the sorriest of chefs look great.
5. Bring to the table and shout, “Ta da!”
Take your boots off before you come in here!