So I got married, went on my honeymoon, returned home, unpacked—and the whole dang world promptly fell apart. As such, it feels a little frivolous to concentrate on what I ate while I was away, much less to relay it all to you in excruciating detail. (If only I’d had the wherewithal to write this post on Monday!) But hey, as a wise Irish girl group once sang, c’est la vie—and this is a food blog, not a liberal whining blog, damnit.
On to the fish!
Ceviche was, predictably, everywhere in the Riviera Maya, from the schmanciest hotels (where we washed it down with $14 micheladas that didn’t even contain any hot sauce—guess that’s an American thing?) to the humblest beachside shacks (where we had it alongside some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten) to the trendiest rustic-chic restaurants (where we actually forewent the ceviche, for once, in favor of a smoked fish dip that I’m still thinking about, a week and a half later). Regardless of the setting, though, pretty much all of it followed the same basic template: lime juice, onion, white fish and/or shellfish and/or octopus, all fresh fresh fresh and just barely “cooked” in citrus juice. Oh, and plenty of just-fried tortilla chips to scoop it up with. Do you have any idea how many of those chips I ate in Mexico? Do you??
Shocker: Nonnie’s ceviche is not as good as ceviche you nibble while being caressed by a tropical breeze, gazing at a breathtaking Caribbean sunset, and thinking about the sea turtle you made friends with earlier that day. It is, however, surprisingly tasty for a recipe recorded in those pre-sushi days, when ultra-fresh fish was in short supply for most Americans.
The weather on this side of the equator is decidedly un-ceviche-like, and getting less ceviche-like every day—as is the general mood of the nation, I dare say. What’s the best way to rage against the dying of that light? Well, take a deep breath, for one. Donate to Planned Parenthood, for two. And for three? Buy some fish, “cook” it in lime juice, and smother it in hot sauce. Eat with your eyes closed, dreaming of better, warmer days to come. Repeat.
2-3 lbs. firm, white fish [Nonnie adds in pen that she recommends snapper, bass, flounder, or sole; I used flounder]
1 bottle lime juice, unsweetened [which translates to about 8 ounces, if you’re in the mood to juice just a buttload of limes]
2-3 onions, chopped
Chop fish into bite-sized pieces. Place in shallow glass baking dish. Cover with onions and juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
[Most modern-day ceviche recipes don’t recommend marinating the fish for nearly this long; “cook” times I found while researching tended more toward the 10 minutes to 1 hour range, though Rick Bayless does recommend a full four hours. According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, marinating your fish for more than an hour leads to irredeemable fall-apart; I didn’t find that to be true at all, even though the flounder filets I bought were pretty thin and delicate to begin with. After half an hour, the fish was very soft but fairly opaque, mild and delicious; it was definitely firmer after marinating for an hour longer, though the taste hadn’t really changed. I found that was still true even after a full eight hours of marinating; maybe there’s just a point at which the fish stops cooking.]
Drain the juice from the fish the next day and add the following:
1 green pepper, chopped
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons green jalapeño sauce
[Added, in handwriting:] Can stewed tomatoes [Because this was clearly a last-minute addition, I decided to treat it as optional and ignore it. I’m glad I did.]
Mix all ingredients together with fish-onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Turn once or twice.
The verdict: As a proud capsaicin maniac, it pains me to say that this recipe calls for too much hot sauce. I know, I can’t believe I’m hearing me either. Maybe Nonnie’s brand of choice was just a lot less potent than mine; either way, the little mister found this recipe almost inedible, and even I will admit that the spice probably could have been dialed down.
Next time, I’ll add hot sauce to taste rather than dumping it in by the tablespoon—or, better yet, use a fresh chile instead. I’ll also probably let the fish marinate for a much shorter period, nix the celery—at what point did middle America realize that celery wasn’t the only vegetable we had?—and layer in some extra flavor by punching up the mixture with cilantro, red onions rather than white—added after the fish has marinated—and fresh tomatoes, if they’re in season.
As a starting point, though, you could do a lot worse than this pile of raw-cooked fish—and if nothing else, whipping up a bowl is a much easier way to perk yourself up than absconding to Mexico. (If you’ve got the means and the time, though: go to Mexico! Now! Before a certain Cheeto-dusted rodeo clown starts trying to build his stupid wall!!)