From 2006-2008 I lived alone in a yurt on the Mongolian steppe. My desire to cook was more out of nutritional necessity than any inherent interest. A diet consisting of boiled sheep’s innards, dried milk curd, and the odd potato, carrot, or onion, is enough to drive anyone to culinary experimentation.
Today, I cook because it is one of ways in which my mother and I relate as adults. I cook because good, home-cooked food is an incontrovertible excuse to drink good wine. I cook because people don’t expect twenty-something men with unruly hair to have secret ingredients. I cook because no one else makes it spicy enough.
In the summer of 2007 I took up residence next to a river, miles from the village and without a neighbor in sight. I lived almost solely on what I caught from the river: fat, beautiful rainbow trout. I learned every conceivable way to prepare them: baked, smoked, sautéed, fried, boiled, stewed, and stuffed in dumplings. I even took the risk of trying trout sashimi-style. No cooking method, however, satisfied as much as cleaning a freshly caught fish, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and laying it over the hot coals of a fire built on the banks of the river.
Many people shy away from ceviche because they incorrectly presume that it is a raw dish. Whether you call it cold cooking, pickling, or denaturing, marinating in citrus not only gives seafood a great flavor, but actually chemically “cooks” it, visibly changing the color and texture of the meat. Fear not!
Rob Shore's Tilapia and Scallop Ceviche:
Serves 6 as an entree, 8+ as an appetizer
1 ½ Lbs tilapia: cut into ¾ inch cubes
½ Lb scallops (3 large ones): cut into ¾ inch cubes
Strained juice from 8-10 limes
1 large red onion, finely diced
3 tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
¼ bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
2-3 habanero peppers, seeded and minced (sub Serrano peppers for less heat)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup milk (optional)
Salt and pepper: to taste
Put tilapia cubes, scallops, and diced red onion in a large bowl. Pour lime juice over fish and mix well. You want the fish covered, but not “swimming” in lime juice. The lime juice cooks the fish quite quickly, I’m told as quickly as 10-20 minutes. You can wait 45 minutes to an hour if it makes you feel better, but I wouldn’t wait much longer than that. Too much lime juice or marinating for too long can “over cook” the fish and make it rubbery. Refrigerate for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.Optional: Remove the marinated tilapia and pour the milk over the contents of the bowl. Let sit for 2-3 minutes and strain ALL of the liquid. The milk neutralizes the acidity of the lime juice, makes it easier on sensitive stomachs, and prevents the fish from cooking after the liquid has been strained.
Serving: The ceviche can be served right away, but I like to let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably a couple of hours, to let the flavors combine and settle.
You can serve ceviche in a martini glass if you are feeling classy, in a halved avocado for a marriage of function and form, or keep it simple and leave the bowl out with toothpicks for communal appetizer grazing. I usually garnish with thinly sliced lemon/lime rounds. I’m told that the Peruvians like to eat ceviche with popcorn, which might make an interesting garnish.