I’m a sucker for Mexican food. And living in Chicago, there are plenty of authentic Mexican eateries to choose from. Growing up my mom would make us “homemade” tacos. Of course homemade for my mom meant buying the Old El Paso Soft Taco Dinner Kit from the local grocery store.
As I’ve expanded my culinary horizons over the years, I’ve moved past just ordering up tacos and burritos when I’m in the mood for something south of the border. Ceviche has become a new favorite appetizer of mine to indulge in. Ceviche, also spelled “seviche” or “cebiche,” is a popular marinated seafood dish in Latin countries.
Ceviche recipes and ingredients vary depending on seasons and location. The basic ingredient is raw fish, which is chopped into little pieces and marinated in a citrus-based mixture with lemons and limes. The citric acid causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or cooks the fish sans a heated flame. As a result, the seafood tastes more cooked rather than like raw sashimi.
According to About.com, the fish will cook completely or partially depending on how long it is marinated in the lime and lemon juice. It can be eaten as a first course or main dish. There are many regional variations, with each South American country putting their own special touches on the ceviche garnishes.
Ceviche, often spelled “cebiche” in Peru, is found in almost all Peruvian restaurants specialized in seafood. Peruvian ceviche commonly consists of bits of raw fish, lime or lemon juice, sliced onion, chopped garlic and a minced fruity Peruvian pepper ají limo. It is then typically served with camote or sweet potato.
In Ecuador, shrimp ceviche is very popular. It tends to be made with ketchup or tomato sauce, similar to a cocktail sauce. The shrimp ceviche is mixed with Andean corn kernel, choclo, and red onions. Another type of ceviche is made up of spondylus, also known as thorny oysters or spiny oysters. The Incas referred to spondylus as the food from the gods.
In Mexico, ceviche is regularly served and enjoyed on the beaches of Mexico. The recipe for the dish includes a basic seafood mix — shrimp, octopus, squid, tuna and mackerel — combined with salt, lime, onion, chili, avocado, coriander, tomatoes and parsley. It is usually served in cocktail cups with crackers or tortilla chips.
Keeping it local
Zocalo Restaurant here in Chicago is hands down one of my favorite Mexican spots. This eatery serves up a menu that offers both classic and contemporary Mexican dishes. Of course one of my favorite dishes here is the ceviche playero. Zocalo prepares their ceviche with fresh tilapia in a marinated citrus juice with roma tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, roasted red pepper, avocado and oranges. It also comes with homemade corn and plantain chips.
Not a seafood person? Try the tacos y tequila, which includes marinated grilled steak or chicken tacos and Don Julio Blanco Tequila garnish with fresh lettuce, Pico de Gallo, and Fresco cheese. The dish is also topped off with grilled scallions and served with a roasted red jalapeño salsa.
The tinga poblana is also another fave of mine. This dish includes spicy chipotle marinated grilled chicken breast and poblano pepper-chorizo potato cake served over a cool avocado salsa. It’s also garnished with Fresco cheese and Pico de Gallo.
If you’re a Mexican food lover like me, I highly recommend Zocalo! The restaurant’s menu features a list of braised and slow roasted meats in Yucatan inspired marinades, classic Oaxacan moles, and some of the freshest seafood in the city. Zocalo delivers from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Zocalo Restaurant and Tequila Bar, 358 W. Ontario, Chicago, IL