For local chefs, ceviche is so Miami

For the Miami Herald

It’s bright, refreshing and flavorful. It can be colorful, vibrant and sometimes make you pucker. Depending on what country it’s from, the players vary. But regardless, it’s perfect for the heat and the beach.

Those are just some of the things that make ceviche so Miami. Combined with the fact that it’s a light way to get a protein-packed snack or meal and that it’s easy to make, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t add one of these three ceviche recipes to your rotation.

There’s a misconception about ceviche, that’s it difficult to make and easy to screw up. But by following these tips from local chefs and restaurant owners, you’ll find the opposite to be true.

It all comes down to fresh fish and citrus.

“I look at ceviche as a free canvas,” said Sam Gorenstein, co-founder and executive chef of My Ceviche. There are a few guidelines to hit to ensure that your ceviche dish is a masterpiece. Saltiness, spiciness, sweetness and acidity — as long as you have a good balance between those four, you’ll end up with a delicious ceviche, he says.

When you mix a delicate protein like fish with citrus juice and allow it to sit, the citric acid in the juice causes the protein in the fish to denature, a similar process to what happens when you throw a piece of fish on a hot grill. In essence, ceviche is no-heat cooking, which means less fuss.

“As people get educated, they will realize that it’s so much easier than grilling a steak,” Gorenstein said.

At Loba restaurant in Miami’s MiMo district, owner Jessica Sanchez added her mom’s ceviche to the menu to “share the savory wealth.” Loba’s ceviche arrives at the table in a trio, in small bowls cupping distinct, flavorful versions of the dish.

“Our patrons get to experience three completely different styles in one dish — Peruvian, Colombian and Mexican,” Sanchez said.

Different versions and deviations of ceviche can be found around the globe, and the dish bears similarity to escabeche, a Spanish dish of fish often marinated in vinegar, and sakbaj, an Arabic preparation of vinegar-cooked meat.

Before opening Loba last year, Sanchez said she, too, was skeptical about handling and serving “raw” fish. But she has discovered the not-to-secret trick: using fresh ingredients. Even at its most bare bones — citrus juice, fish, salt — excellent ceviche requires no more than slicing, juicing, stirring and chilling. That’s it.

“Seafood caught right in our backyard, combined with Miami’s abundance of tropical fruits and Homestead produce, makes for the perfect ceviche,” said Sasha Ullman, chef de partie at the new 27 Restaurant & Bar in Miami Beach.

At 27, Ullman is tasked with preparing a ceviche-like “crudo” preparation daily based on whatever fish is fresh that day. She doesn’t know what it’s going to be, but that’s the beauty of the dish. It’s an easy preparation that highlights the fish, allowing chefs to play with bright, charming flavors.

In Miami, where there is a fleet of fishermen and sourcing options for fresh fish, ceviche is one of the easiest vessels for authentic local flavor.

“There is no right or wrong answer,” Gorenstein said. “At the end of the day, it’s personal taste. Whatever you do, just start with fresh fish and freshly squeezed juice.”

Fish tips

Fish type in ceviche varies and can depend on what is fresh and local, and what kind of texture you like. Delicate fish like grouper will flake and absorb citrus juice quickly, while firm fish like swordfish will take a while to soak up acid.

Best fish for ceviche: Grouper, cobia, tilefish, snapper, mahi, corvina, halibut.

How to cut it: What size pieces of fish you use depends on personal preference. “If you slice very thin, the acid is going to marinate the fish a lot quicker. If you cube it, it’s going to take longer,” Gorenstein said. He prefers a quick marinate, so he slices his fish. If you prefer to let the fish sit, try cubing.

How long to let it sit: This, again, is dependent on personal preference. For a fresh, raw bite of fish, eat the ceviche 4-10 minutes after letting it sit in the citrus. For a ceviche that’s firm, let the dish sit for 4-6 hours, depending on taste.

Freshness counts

The most important requirement for ceviche is to use the freshest fish possible. That cuts out a lot of supermarket options that have been frozen. The good news is that Miami is a fisherman’s dream, and for the consumer, there are plenty of fish markets and specialty grocery stores around.

To get the freshest fish, it’s best to buy a whole fish and have the fishmonger clean, scale, skin and fillet it right there. The reason is that whole fish show age in their eyes and gills, Gorenstein said. The freshest whole fish should have clear eyes and blood-red gills. As soon as the eyes cloud or the gills begin to brown, your best bet is to move on to another specimen.

Fresh shrimp is a little harder to source because shrimp is often frozen and shipped, then displayed on ice. There’s fresh, local shrimp to be had in Miami. The thing to do, as you would with a vendor at a farmers market, is to ask the fishmonger what is the best option for ceviche.

Nina Lincoff is a Miami-based writer. Contact her at or on Twitter: @nincoff.

Where to buy

Casablanca Fish Market: 404 NW N. River Dr., Miami.

Garcia’s Fish Market: 398 NW N. River Dr., Miami.

Blue Runner Seafood: 10900 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

In season now

Ceviche can be as simple as fish, citrus and salt. But try these Florida-grown goodies, in season now and available at local farmers markets, in your next ceviche:

Bell pepper, guava, strawberry, carambola, orange, sweet corn, papaya, tangerine, celery, peanut, tomato, radish and grapefruit.

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Passion Fruit-Ají Amarillo Shrimp Ceviche

1 1/2-2 pounds medium Key West pink shrimp

1 orange, cut in half

1 large white onion, divided

2 garlic cloves, divided

Kosher salt

1 ají amarillo pepper, seeded and deveined (see note)

5-7 whole passion fruits

1 teaspoon chopped ginger

1 1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup fresh sour orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 red onion, shaved

1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped

10 Thai basil leaves, chopped (see note)

Blanch the shrimp: Bring orange halves, 1/2 onion, 1 clove garlic, a handful of salt and a gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the shrimp when it reaches a boil and blanch for 40-60 seconds. The flesh will become a bit plumped, slightly opaque, and the shrimp will begin to curl. Strain the shrimp and lay them flat on a sheet pan; they will continue cooking. Refrigerate the shrimp, about 2 hours, until chilled.

Make the ceviche: Cut the passion fruits in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add the remaining white onion, garlic, ají amarillo, passion fruit flesh, ginger, lime juice, sour orange juice and honey to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain into a bowl and refrigerate the marinade until chilled.

When ready to eat, toss the shrimp with sliced red onion, cilantro, basil and salt, to taste. Add the marinade, toss and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Note: Add a second pepper if you prefer a spicier ceviche. If you cannot find ají amarillo peppers, substitute 1-2 tablespoons ají amarillo paste. Regular basil can be substituted for Thai basil.

Source: Sam Gorenstein, My Ceviche.

Spanish-style Gazpacho Ceviche with Garlic Oil

2 large, ripe, red tomatoes, cored

1/2 English cucumber, peeled

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1 shallot

1 green onion

2 garlic cloves

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and stemmed

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine

1 teaspoon Worcestershire

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup parsley, minced

4 basil leaves, minced

3/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 1/2 pounds fresh tilefish, grouper or cobia fillets, skinned and thinly sliced or cubed

2 tablespoons garlic oil (see note)

1/2 red onion, shaved

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and stemmed, minced

1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced

1/4 cup cilantro, picked

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 Florida avocado, diced

1/2 cup Sun Gold tomatoes, halved (see note)

1 green onion, thinly sliced

To make gazpacho: Add first 14 ingredients to a blender and process until smooth. Add parsley and basil and pulse a few times, making sure not to over-blend. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Toss lime juice and fish in a large bowl and season with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Chill for 4 minutes or up to 6 hours, depending on how firm you want your ceviche.

Drain fish, reserving the lime juice mixture. Toss the fish in a large bowl with the garlic oil, red onion, jalapeño, cucumber, cilantro, 1/4 cup of the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon gazpacho into shallow bowls and mound ceviche in the center of the gazpacho. Add avocado and tomato, and garnish with green onion. Serves 4.

Note: To make garlic oil, heat 12 sliced garlic cloves in 1 cup olive oil over medium-high heat about 3-4 minutes, until the garlic just begins to sizzle but before it browns. Remove from heat and let cool before use. Will keep for a week, covered and unrefrigerated. If you can’t find Sun Gold tomatoes, cherry tomatoes will work.

Source: Sasha Ullman, 27 Restaurant & Bar.

Traditional Ceviche

2/3 cup fresh lime juice

1 pound fresh corvina or halibut fillets, skinned and thinly sliced or cubed

1/2 cup chopped green and red bell peppers

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon tomatillo, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and stemmed, minced

1/2 small red onion, shaved

Kosher salt, to taste

2 teaspoons of fresh squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/3 cup celery juice

1/2 pound Florida jumbo shrimp

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon orange zest

Place fish in medium bowl and add lime juice and kosher salt. Cover and chill until fish turns white and no longer looks raw, tossing occasionally, at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours.

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl and add lime and celery juices, salt and orange zest. Cover and chill, tossing occasionally, at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours.

Strain fish and shrimp and place ceviche in large bowl. Add onions, peppers, chopped jalapeno, tomatillos, orange juice and olive oil, and toss until combined. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Source: Jessica Sanchez, Loba.