Food science Ceviche

How do you fancy your fish: grilled, broiled, steamed? I’m a pan roasted seafood guy myself, but there’s yet another way to ‘cook’ fish, scallops, and shrimp: ceviche.

Ceviche (name of both the dish and the preparation) is a popular way of enjoying seafood along the coast in Central and South America as well is in Mexico and the Caribbean. The most notable is Peru, where it is believed ceviche has its origins with the Incas.

With ceviche, you’re able to use nothing more complicated than citrus juice to quickly and easily prepare a Latin American inspired seafood menu masterpiece. And today, right here on PBS Parents Adventures in Learning, I’m going to teach you and your kids how to make ceviche and how it works!

What You’ll Need

  • Fresh fish, scallops and/or shrimp
  • Lime juice
  • Knife & cutting board
  • Juicer
  • An appetite for adventure!
PBS Parent Ceviche Science

Making Ceviche

Ceviche demands high-quality and extremely fresh fish. To buy the ingredients for my ceviche, I drove past the supermarket to my neighborhood fish market and picked out a small filet of wild caught cod that had just been delivered, and a half dozen cleaned & peeled raw shrimp. Be sure to inquire with your local fishmonger to ensure you’re selecting the freshest fish, scallops and shrimp possible for your ceviche.

Once you’ve got your fresh seafood back home, place it in the freezer for just a bit (enough to firm, but not freeze), which will make it easier to work with later. While the fresh fish gets chilly, juice 5-7 limes (limes are the classic citrus used for ceviche, but as you can see I’m using a few lemons, too) into a nonreactive (stainless steel, enamel or glass) bowl.

Next, cut the cold fish into bite-sized cubes and toss into the bowl of citrus juice making sure the juice covers all the fish completely. Cover and put into the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.

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It is important to not let the fish sit in the lime juice for too long (or too short a time) because, just as if your fish was on the grill, too little heat and you’ll be serving an undercooked meal, while too much heat will have you dining on fish-flavored charcoal brickettes.

Therefore, you want to occasionally peek in on your seafood to see the exact moment the white fish becomes firm and opaque and the shrimp takes on that classic pink color.

How Ceviche Works

The acidic lime juice quickly transforms the fish, rearranging its proteins and making it safe to eat. While the seafood is no longer raw, it is not cooked in a traditional sense either. Instead, the citrus juice is “freeing the long chains of amino acids from its native form, allowing them to rearrange in a formation that is similar to that of traditionally cooked seafood.” Amazing, right? Amazing AND delicious!

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The process of altering the chemical makeup of the seafood is called ‘denaturation’ — the acid in the citrus juice does this just like the heat of an oven, grill or stovetop pan. It is important to know that unlike traditional cooking, the citrus juice is not killing off potential bacteria in the fish. This is why only the freshest fish should be used to make ceviche.

PBS Parent Ceviche Science

Pulling It All Together

There are a number of ways to serve your ceviche once the citrus juice has worked its magic, but usually a simple presentation is preferred to allow the citrus flavored fish to shine. I’ve added some avocado and a little garlic here, but tossing with diced tomatoes and some red pepper flakes or other ‘heat’ like chiles is common as well.

PBS Parent Ceviche Science

One Final Note

If seafood in general isn’t your thing, or you simply cannot get past the idea of eating technically uncooked fish or shrimp, use this ceviche lesson merely as a science experiment and not dinner prep. Buy a few shrimp, a couple of limes and watch with your kids as the shrimp magically turns pink!

Bonus Time

If you and/or your kids ARE seafood eaters, hold a blind taste by preparing some shrimp ceviche and also marinating a few other shrimp in lime juice before cooking in a traditional way and letting cool. See if you or your kids can tell which shrimp had their protein structure changed by only lime juice and which by heat!

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About Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad who writes humorously about parenting and All Things Childhood on his site Out With The Kids. He is married to an adorable redheaded gal and has two lovely little ladies 12 and under who provide him with countless hours of humorous in-home entertainment, and who get to hear, see, and play with more cool stuff than you can possibly imagine.

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