Peruvian Ceviche and Leche de Tigre

by Elena on October 29, 2014

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This week I was reminded of a trip I made a few years ago to Peru when Chef Diego Muñoz, the Chef de Cuisine at Astrid y Gastón, visited the Saveur offices and prepared a few dishes for the staff.  It was a complete surprise to me until they walked into the kitchen and I couldn’t help but smile like a silly fan girl as he and his sous chef worked around us in our kitchen.  They moved with the sense of urgency and control that you find in any fine dining restaurant.  They remained controlled even while we photographed them and followed them around the kitchen, watching their every move.  I felt a twinge of envy while I watched them grind powders, make tuiles, and plate cohesive dishes with multiple components.  I still miss plating at the pass, creating art on a plate and the surprise of melding flavors when you taste the dish all together.  I miss the small tweezers I used to plate.  I even missed, if only for a second, answering to a Chef, the person you respect and dedicate yourself to, in order to realize his or her vision.

Chef showcased Peruvian potatoes, beautiful and colorful, each prepared in a different way.  Different varieties of potatoes, were mashed, or boiled, or made into gnocchi and stuffed with meat.  One of the dishes that I didn’t get a chance to photograph, included beef tongue that was so tender after hours in the immersion circulator it almost melted on your tongue.  They paired pancetta and peanuts with a caramel tuile and it made me reevaluate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to perhaps include some kind of cured pork product.  Although I must say that my cousins and I shared a similar pairing years ago in Spain when we used to put cured pork on our Nutella sandwiches.  Don’t judge until you try it.

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I went to Astrid y Gastón years ago with my friend Vipula who told me about the restaurant and her interest in Gastón Acurio, the famed Peruvian Chef who has since helped make Peruvian food well known throughout the world.  Peru was a country that I had to see.  While working in an office I had a picture of Machu Picchu as my computer background because I figured if I looked at it every day, I would work that much harder to get there.  Eventually I did get there and Peru, its people, and the food did not disappoint.  I could go on about Peru and how we hiked for 3 days to Machu Picchu and how I had to use an oxygen tank when I suffered from altitude sickness; Or how we wandered around Lima and explored its colorful streets and markets, but for the sake of this post I want to focus on the ceviche.

Peruvian ceviche is famous and beloved in this country, and as with all beloved things, there are a lot of differing and strong opinions on how to make it.  One thing people do agree on is that ceviche should be made with leche de tigre, the marinade loosely translated as the milk of the tiger.  What they don’t agree on is how you should make it.  Some people just marinade the fish, usually fluke or a related white fish, with lime juice and milk, while others make more elaborate blends of fish stock, fish trim, onions, and garlic that when blended look milky.  This video posted on Fine Dining Lovers is a funny depiction about the differing views Chef’s have regarding their cultural staples.

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This picture is of ceviche that I ate in Lima made with choclo, the large, kernel corn from the Andes, and fresh seaweed.

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Ceviche is a dish that has been around for perhaps thousands of years in the coastal areas of Latin America, more particularly Peru.  While you use raw fish the citrus marinade actively denatures the protein and it appears to be cooked.  It doesn’t provide the same effect as heat however, and it won’t kill bacteria, which is why you need to work with only the freshest fish.

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Peruvian potatoes brought by Corpapa and Chef Diego Muñoz

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Peruvian potato with peanuts, peanut puree, caramel tuile, and pancetta by Chef Diego Muñoz.

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King crab with tomato, quail egg, and potato by Chef Diego Muñoz.

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Chef Diego Muñoz preparing papa rellena (stuffed potato) with a cheese topping.

I have made this ceviche before, even making it for family meal at The Modern when we had an abundance of fresh, fluke scraps.  I play with the recipe often, adding any garnish or vegetable that I’m in the mood for that meal.  Here I used sweet potato, which is very customary for Peruvian ceviche, but I also added pieces of dragonfruit, an ingredient more reminiscent of Mexico.  I love the dichotomy of the sweet and spicy.  My suggestion would be to make the leche de tigre marinade and then add the garnishes of your choosing.  In New York City it is easy to find the Peruvian pepper called aji amarillo, in paste form or marinated, as well as choclo, but in other places people may not be as lucky.  Feel free to substitute these ingredients with similar ingredients such as serrano peppers or fresh corn.

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Peruvian Ceviche with Leche de Tigre

Inspired by Gaston Acurio

Leche de Tigre Ingredients
2/3 cups fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fish stock
2 garlic cloves smashed
1/4 cup red onion thinly sliced (about 1/2 small red onion)
1 tbs. grated ginger
1 tsp. aji amarillo paste (or half a jalapeno or serrano pepper)
ice

Ceviche Ingredients
1 small sweet potato
1/2 cup frozen choclo or hominy (or 1 ear of corn, husked and cut from cob)
1 pound flounder, fluke, or sole cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
1/2 small habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1 small vine ripe tomato, small dice
1/4 dragonfruit, small dice
Cilantro garnish
Finishing oil (olive or herb)
Salt

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For Leche de Tigre
Combine lime juice, fish stock, garlic, red onion, grated ginger, aji amarillo, and a couple ice cubes in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Strain into a bowl and chill.

For Ceviche
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add the sweet potato and cook until tender and you can pierce through the potato without resistance, about 15 minutes.  Cut the potato into 1/2 inch cubes and let cool.  Bring the same pot of water to a boil and cook the frozen choclo until tender about five minutes.  (If you are cooking an ear of corn cook for 5 minutes and then cut from cob).  If you are using dried choclo you will need to soak it overnight and cook for a much longer amount of time.

Combine the leche de tigre with the white fish and let marinade for a couple of minutes.  Stir in choclo, sweet potato, red onion, habaneros, dragonfruit, and tomato.  Garnish with cilantro, season with salt, and serve cold.  Add more aji amarillo or habaneros if you want a spicy version.

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