The ceviche cure

 Ceviche scallops “cook” in an acidic marinade of citrus and/or vinegar. Wikipedia/Picanteria Karol

Ceviche is an ode to the beauty of perfectly fresh fish.

It is essentially a means of “cooking” fish without heat, using the acidity of citrus and/or vinegar and the curing effects of salt. Ceviche (pronounced sah-VEE-chay) originated in South America, though some describe it as South American/Asian fusion. A talented Peruvian chef I cooked with in the Dominican Republic insisted that Peruvian tirodita was the original. But, according to the Serious Eats website, an influx of Japanese farmers who emigrated to Peru in the late 1800s melded Japanese and Peruvian cuisines into a style known as nikkei cooking. Be that as it may, a happy fusion often leads to delicious results.

Whatever its provenance, ceviche essentially “cooks” the seafood you are using by denaturing the proteins, as they are by heat, but without the same risk of overcooking. That said, ceviche marinated too long may turn slightly rubbery.

The first ceviche I ever tasted was in Key West. It was made with conch and grouper, and in my book, anything that can tenderize conch is worth knowing about. Any firm white fish will work (halibut makes for very good ceviche), as will scallops and small raw shrimp. (I’ve never heard of oysters this way, but, after all, a fresh, raw, briny oyster needs no further adornment.)

Scallops are my personal favorite for ceviche, though if you can find raw northern shrimp, these “cook” well too. In this country, we only eat the scallop’s adductor muscle, and scallop boats are legally prevented from bringing in the rest of the bivalve due to possible toxins in the internal organs.

As the scallop’s proteins become denatured, you’ll see it change from translucent to opaque, just as it would when cooked with heat. It will become firmer in texture but remain tender due to the elements of the ceviche marinade.

Buying scallops

A few notes on buying scallops:

Always look for “dry” scallops. This just means that water (with a few yucky chemicals thrown in) hasn’t been added to plump up the weight of the catch.

Also, before marinating or cooking, check the scallops for a small, opaque tough piece of muscle and remove.

Scallops should never have a fishy odor. They should be fresh and sweet with very little smell.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including, “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor Magazine and a regular contributor to Cruising World.

Citrus Ginger Scallop Ceviche

I usually let the scallops “cook” for a couple of hours before serving, but you can eat them within 15 to 20 minutes or when slightly firm and opaque.

6 large sea scallops, quartered
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup minced poblano or green pepper
1 small shallot very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or ginger paste
Red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley for garnish

Combine all ingredients except the scallops in a non-reactive bowl. (The citrus is likely to react with certain metals.) Mix well.

Add scallops and stir into marinade. Make sure all scallop flesh is coated.

Allow to cure for 1-2 hours.