Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Sorry, I must take exception to the reporting on ceviche in today’s A.M. Costa Rica edition. Having pleased many a crowd, including professional chefs, with ceviche made from the freshest fish imaginable caught the same day or previous day from my own boat in Mexican or Southern California waters, I know authentic ceviche.
The correct spelling of the name of this dish is ceviche. In Spanish, though, the V is pronounced as a B sounds in English.
This dish is popular throughout the Mediterranean area and resembles another marinated fish dish called escabèche, a French word indicating the origins of the dish is most likely European, not Peruvian, though it may have reached the New World through Perú via conquistadores. Limes and fish probably were happily married long before America was discovered.
Most importantly, though, one must prepare authentic ceviche (or escabèche) using the juice of limes, never lemons. This fact is obfuscated by the semantic confusion that fails to separate lemons from limes in Spanish. The lime available here is the limón mesina, the same green-inside lime found in the U.S. Perfect!
Lemons are typically far too acidic and will carry the chemical cooking of the fish much too far, producing a result that tastes too lemony and acidic, and possibly toughening the fish.
If you would not serve tequila with lemon, neither should false cebiche made with lemon ever reach your table. Limes have much more flavor and far less acid than lemons. This makes them entirely non-interchangeable in a culinary sense.
Another critical fine point — the fruit juice does not baste the fish. The fish is immersed (marinated) in the juice. A simple basting (surface wetting) of the fish will fail to chemically cook it through. Once the thinly sliced fish is submerged in lime juice, it must be placed under refrigeration until all the fish goes opaque through and through. Otherwise, you’ll be serving a very sour kind of sushi.
Use of sour oranges, often passed off as lemons or limes here in Costa Rica, would be disastrous, completely overpowering the subtle fresh fish flavor, which the best ceviche preserves and features. Those sour oranges are good for little other than lemonade.
I can’t resist suggesting a Mediterranean escabèche variation’s
FRESH fish, any species, thinly sliced (not diced.)
Copious juice of green-inside limes. Enough to submerge the cut fish
and other ingredients.
Thin sliced fresh purple opal basil leaves
Thin sliced purple onion
Finely diced garlic
Fresh, finely-ground black pepper
Dash of sea salt
Whole small black olives
Key point: Do not allow anything metallic to contact the lime juice.
Combine ingredients in proportions you like in a glass or crockery bowl. I like lots of basil and more garlic than many folks prefer. Assure the fish is entirely submerged. Store overnight in the fridge.
For the adventurous, one or two drops of juice from habanero pepper may be added. Stop short of making the dish hot. You only want the Scotch Bonnet’s flavor, not the intense heat.
Drain and serve wet the nest day but not swimming. Perfect appetizer with traditional martinis. Or add fresh-baked bread and call it a meal. Enjoy!