This is a classic Latin American dish, where fish is marinated in citrus juice. The acid in the juice changes the chemical structure of the fish in a similar way to cooking it, so the texture and flavour cease to be raw but there's still a lovely freshness on the palate. It's crucial that you start with spankingly fresh fish.
Preparing the fish is time-consuming, but it's really worth doing it carefully. Skin the fillets and remove the pin bones. Work over each piece with your fingers, making sure it is completely boneless, skinless and free from the thickish membrane found around the belly area. Then slice the fish across the grain into pieces 0.5-1cm thick. Don't make them any thinner or you'll barely feel the fish in your mouth.
Pass the citrus juice through a fine sieve to remove the fibres. Then combine it with the onion, celery, chilli, spices, sugar and salt in a ceramic dish or plastic tub (not a metal container). Add the fish and mix gently, making sure it is completely submerged in the liquid. Put in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of an hour and a maximum of 12 hours; 3-4 hours is about perfect. You'll see the flesh become opaque as the juice 'cooks' it.
Taste the ceviche and adjust the seasonings, if necessary - you might feel the need for a little more cayenne pepper, sugar or salt. If you want to use the coriander, stir it in just before serving. We like to serve the ceviche, with all its juices and aromatic flavourings, in little cups. After eating the fish, you can then drink the juice.
Firm, well-muscled varieties such as bream and bass are ideal for ceviche, but we have had good results with gurnard and pollack as well. There are many variations on the theme. Our tried and trusted version uses subtle flavourings that play to the strengths of the very best, freshest fish.
Variations that we would sanction include the use of finely sliced fennel bulb instead of celery, and upping the heat a bit with fresh chilli and cayenne, if you like that extra zing. If finding both limes and lemons is a problem, use just one or the other. But don't miss out on the orange. We think it rather makes the dish.
- 500g black bream or sea bass fillets
- Juice of 3 limes, 2 lemons and 1 orange
- 1 small red onion, sliced paper thin
- 2 celery sticks, finely sliced (as thick as a 10-pence piece)
- ½-1 mild to medium red chilli, deseeded and very finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon sweet unsmoked paprika
- A pinch of hot unsmoked paprika or cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon soft brown sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped coriander (optional)
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