Sure, sure, June is fine month to dive into a mound of fresh, local produce. But it’s also the month when our thoughts turn to – shrimp.
These ugly, briny creatures are simple to cook, fun to eat and so versatile that you can use them several times a week and never repeat a dish. I bet you can just hear Bubba reciting the many uses for shrimp in that famous scene from “Forrest Gump:” shrimp scampi, shrimp gumbo, deep-fried shrimp, shrimp kabobs, shrimp stew, shrimp creole.
He did leave out one of our favorites, though – shrimp ceviche.
It’s hard to find ceviche on menus in this area, likely because it calls for really fresh seafood and has such a short shelf life. Fortunately, it’s easy to make at home, and shrimp is readily available for this marinated dish. Granted, unlike the traditional white fish used in ceviche, shrimp does get a little tough when it “cooks” in lime juice. But the taste cancels out the texture problems.
I can still remember the first time I tried ceviche, at the home of a college friend. We were having a sophisticated dinner at her parents’ posh condo in Washington, DC. My friend had grown up in Colombia and her family still loved the cuisine of South America. So, when the first course of ceviche was placed in front of me, I was wary of the raw-looking fish, even though it smelled delicious. They really enjoyed watching me struggle with my innate Southern politeness and my limited (up until then) exposure to international cuisine. They started giggling as my fork hovered between the bowl and my mouth. Then, pow! An explosion of fresh, salty, citrusy seafood, spiked with a hint of heat and green chilis, opened my eyes wide. They laughed out loud at my amazement and brought me seconds, and gave me the recipe, when I scraped the bottom of the dish. The ceviche eclipsed the rest of the dinner, which I’m sure was delicious, even though I can’t remember a thing we ate after that.
I still use that recipe on a splattered, beat-up index card. I love that I spelled it “cebiche,” misunderstanding the South American lisp of my host.
You need to know that the seafood in ceviche is not, in fact, raw. The citric acid actually cooks the protein in the shrimp, so they are as firm and pink as they are when they come out of a pot of boiling water. That makes ceviche the perfect make-ahead dish. Slap it together, let the magic happen, and serve several hours later. It’s one of those rare low-calorie dishes that truly satisfies the palate.
And it sounds strange, but ceviche is just cold shrimp if you leave out the canned green chilis. They really add that distinctive extra level of taste – that umami flavor people like to talk about.
(You can also use fresh filets of sea bass, haddock and flounder or scallops, making this a perfect recipe for your next beach trip.)
1/2 pound of fresh Carolina shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 of a red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 4.5-oz can chopped mild green chilis
1 tsp. salt
green Tabasco to taste
juice of 6-8 fresh limes
Using a sharp knife, cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces. Place the shrimp in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add the onions, chilis, salt and Tabasco. Pour the lime juice over the mixture and make sure the shrimp is completely covered with liquid. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, until shrimp is pink and firm. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the ceviche onto lettuce leaves or serve in bowls. Sprinkle with fresh, chopped cilantro or chives.