The practice of seasoning fish with salt, peppers and citrus juice dates to ancient civilizations in Peru. Acidic juice changes the proteins of the fish much like cooking does, making it opaque and firm.
WHEN I WENT to Peru last year, the first stop on my list was El Mercado for ceviche. After landing in Lima, I rushed my family through customs in order to reach the restaurant in Miraflores before it closed. Raw fish in lime juice might not immediately come to mind after a 12-hour flight, but it was my first time to Peru, and I was eager to experience the local food and pisco sours (pisco is a white brandy made from grapes).
The practice of seasoning fish with salt, peppers and citrus juice dates to ancient civilizations in Peru. Acidic juice changes the proteins of the fish much like cooking does, making it opaque and firm. Today ceviche is a popular appetizer in Central and South America, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean.
Preparations vary according to type of seafood, toppings and marinating times. Regardless, the prep time is minimal, and the result is flavorful and refreshing.
As I ate my way through Peru, I discovered the secret weapon behind the country’s famous ceviche: leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, essentially a brine of citrus juice and peppers. This nectar is so beloved in Peru that people slurp it after eating ceviche and even drink it in cocktails. Some consider it a hangover cure and an aphrodisiac. Wild claims aside, leche packs incredible flavor and magically transforms raw fish.
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As luck would have it, I discovered similar Peruvian ceviche on Stone Way in Seattle. When Joe Sundberg and Rachel Johnson were opening Manolin last year, they drew inspiration largely from the cuisine they had experienced on a trip to the Yucatán Peninsula. They hired as their chef Alex Barkley, who had worked extensively with raw fish at The Walrus & The Carpenter and The Whale Wins. Barkley tested a hundred kinds of ceviche before landing on a fairly traditional Peruvian preparation with cinnamon-laced sweet potato, showcasing local rockfish.
Here Barkley shares his recipes for rockfish ceviche and leche de tigre — with the Peruvian pepper aji amarillo. Barkley chose rockfish because it’s available year-round, it’s sustainable and it “cooks” in just three minutes.
So now I just head over to Stone Way for ceviche and pisco. It’s a lot closer than Lima!
Makes 4 appetizer servings
Leche de Tigre
½ cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon Thai fish sauce
¼ teaspoon aji amarillo paste (available at Latin American markets)
1. In a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients until well combined. Do not allow sauce to become warm. (If too sour, add a splash of orange juice.)
3. Keep in refrigerator until use.
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup sweet potato, peeled and diced
5 ounces fresh Pacific rockfish, cut in ½-inch dices
½ cup green onions, cut on an extreme bias
½ cup red onion, very thinly sliced
Salt to taste
½ cup Leche de Tigre
1 ripe avocado cut in half, pit removed
1 tablespoon chili oil
Fried sweet potato strips or tortilla chips
1. In a small pan, bring salted water to boil with cinnamon stick. Add diced sweet potato and poach until just cooked through. Strain and set aside.
2. Combine rockfish in a bowl with green onions, red onions, salt and leche de tigre. Let sit three minutes to cook the fish.
3. Spoon out the avocado in rustic slices and arrange on serving plate.
4. Add poached sweet potatoes on top of avocado slices. Top with rockfish mixture. Drizzle with chili oil and serve with tortilla chips or fried sweet potato strips.
— Alex Barkley, Manolin