Learn how to make ceviche, a zesty fresh fish and citrus salad enjoyed throughout Mexico and South America, in the comfort of your own home. It’s so light and irresistibly delicious, you’ll be hooked from the very first bite.
Homemade ceviche is amazingly simple to prepare once you’ve got some basics down.
In case you haven’t noticed, there isn’t just one recipe for ceviche–there are hundreds, maybe even thousands. There are as many recipes for traditional ceviche as there are towns dotting the coast of Mexico and South and Central America!
Everyone makes their own special version, using local fish and ingredients that are central to their area. I learned my recipes in the town of San José de Gracia in Aguascalientes (home of the famous Christo Roto).
Because there are so many recipes, that means that you can play around and experiment with your own unique homemade ceviche. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you may never stop creating.
What is ceviche?
Seafood ceviche, also known as cebiche, seviche, or sebiche– is a dish made of chunks of raw fish that are marinated in citrus juices, allowing it to “cook.” Sometimes ceviche (pronounced “seh-VEE-chay”) is made with chilies, ajì, avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, or onion. Ceviche can be eaten on its own, or served with tortilla chips, on tostadas, or with crispy plantain chips. Or skip the carbs and just eat it with a spoon!
If you’re curious about the origin of ceviche, Peru claims it as its very own invention; in fact, ceviche is the national dish of Peru. Traditional Peruvian cebiche uses a sauce called leche del tigre, or tiger’s milk, that is considered an aphrodisiac. A shot of lime juice with chilies and fish just might make anyone roar like a tiger!
However, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and just about the entire Pacific coast of Latin America all celebrate ceviche, too. And for good reason: not only is ceviche phenomenal, it’s low-carb, low in fat, and gluten-free.
In other words, it’s great for serving to crowds of people, and makes the perfect party appetizer.
Is ceviche raw?
Technically, ceviche is eaten raw.
However, as the raw fish sits in the marinade, the acid from the citrus juice breaks down the proteins in the muscle fiber of the fish, giving the fish a texture that is similar to cooked fish, a process called denaturation.
During this chemical reaction, translucent flesh turns white, and raw grey shrimp turn bright, luminous pink. So while the seafood is no longer “raw,” it’s not cooked in the traditional sense, either.
What type of fish should you buy for ceviche?
Making ceviche can require a good relationship with a fish monger at a trusted fish market. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get their opinion; they might be able to turn you on to a new variety of fish! The best fish for ceviche might be there, waiting to be discovered.
At a market, look for sushi grade fish, which generally is cleaned right on the boat to reduce the risk of parasite contamination.
If choosing whole fresh fish, look for fish that still have glossy eyes, bright, shiny skin, and smell fresh.
Fresh or frozen fish for ceviche?
When you have access to right-off-the-boat fresh fish, it’s tempting to select a freshly caught fish and make a big batch to eat on corn tostadas!
If not, it can be confusing to choose the right kind of fish for ceviche. But rest easy: You can make ceviche with fresh or frozen fish and seafood. In fact, some types of fish require commercial freezing to prevent parasite contamination from tape worm and other nematodes.
If you’re very cautious, Seafood Health Facts recommends that only commercially frozen fish be used for making ceviche.
What is the best fish for ceviche?
Ideally, look for ocean fish with lean, white flesh: striped bass, corvina, fluke, or flounder. Also, any sort of snapper, grouper, black sea bass, porgy, sea trout, white sea bass, or yellowtail makes fabulous ceviche, as does tilapia. Ahi tuna can work, as long as it’s not over marinated–it can turn gray and lose its pretty red color.
Pacific rockfish or lingcod, as long as it has been professionally frozen. And some freshwater fish, like walleye or perch, can be made into ceviche as long as they come frozen from the market, too.
Ceviche with salmon is delicious, too! Choose farmed salmon over wild when eating raw salmon.
Other good seafood for ceviche: squid, sepia, octopus, or delicate scallops. Shrimp makes excellent
ceviche de camaron, a wildly popular Mexican ceviche recipe.
How to cut fish for ceviche:
Now that you’ve (hopefully) found the right fish, here’s some great tips for cutting that beautiful fish up into tender chunks:
- 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 cut.
- Make sure the fish skin is removed and that you have a sharp, long chef’s knife for slicing.
- Cut each fillet into long, narrow pieces that ate about 2” wide. Rinse your knife under cold water between each slice; this keeps the delicate fish flesh in tact.
- Now you can make the chunks. Rather than chopping straight down with the knife, hold the blade at a 45 degree angle to make the slices, following the muscle fiber of the fish.
- Keep the slices about 1/4” thick. Rinse or wipe the blade between cuts.
The main ingredient of ceviche is fish, but here are some common ingredients for the ceviche marinade. Because every recipe is a little different, you may see only a few of these ingredients included in the recipe. That’s okay! Add something if you think it will be good–chances are it will be.
- Fish or seafood: Very, very, fresh, or very, very frozen.
- Citrus juice: the main acid in ceviche. Lime juice is the most common in Mexico (most of the time you can even find lemons there!). Lemon juice is great and grapefruit or bitter orange (naranja) can be used, too.
- Onions: You can use yellow, white, green, or red (or as they say in Mexico, purple, and they aren’t wrong?). Depending on the recipe, you might use just one or a combination.
- Carrots: I don’t see carrots in most ceviche recipes on the Internet, but that’s how they make it in Aguascalientes. And it’s great!
- Tomatoes: a small amount of diced tomato adds acidity and texture to ceviche.
- Chilies: bring on the heat! Popular jalapeño peppers are a common spicy ingredient in ceviche. At family gatherings, sometimes they prepare a separate bowl of spicy chiles (think serrano and habañero chiles) so the adults can add those directly, but the kids (and any stray foreigners like me) don’t have to suffer!
- Cilantro: no Mexican ceviche would be ceviche without lots of cilantro! They cut off the main batch of stems at the bottom of the bunch, but cut up the remaining stems along with the leaves. There is so much flavor in cilantro stems! A pinch of chopped chive or parsley works too, if you can’t eat cilantro.
- Avocado: mixed in or scattered on top, avocado tempers the heat and adds tons of creamy texture to delicate ceviche. You can also make guacamole and slather it right on your tostada.
- Bell peppers: for a tiny bit of sweet crunch.
- Mango: mango’s silky texture and sweet flavor are a natural match with fresh fish.
- Vegetables: radish, garlic, or cooling cucumber is perfect for a summer ceviche.
- Tomato juice, fish stock, or clam juice: depending on the region of the ceviche recipe, some sort of savory liquid might be called for to make that magical tiger’s milk.
How to make ceviche:
- Place chopped fish or seafood in a non-reactive bowl (glass or stainless steel) and add citrus juice, covering fish completely.
- Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and slightly firm.
- Add tomatoes, onions, cucumber, radishes, and anything else your recipe might include; toss to combine. Add cilantro and jalapeño pepper to desired taste (chilies will grow spicier while marinating).
- If you’re using something like tomato juice or clam juice, now is the time to add it. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on crackers, tostadas, or with chips. Offer mayonnaise and hot sauce on the side.
How long to marinate ceviche?
How long you want to leave the fish in the marinade is completely up to you. Depending on the size of your chunks of fish or shrimp, and how cooked you enjoy your fish, anywhere between 30 minutes to 4 hours should do the trick. The fish should look opaque on the outside and a little translucent in the center, when broken open. Beyond 4 hours, however, the fish might actually start to become pickled.
Can you make Ceviche in advance?
The fish may be marinated a day in advance; after about 4 hours, when the fish is “cooked,” drain it so that it won’t become pickled. For the freshest flavor, add the other flavorings to the fish no more than a couple of hours before serving.
Ceviche is best made the day you plan to serve it, but it will keep overnight if you have leftovers.
How to serve ceviche:
Ceviche is a smart appetizer to serve if you have a giant hot sauce collection that’s begging to be used; grab them all and put ’em out– let everyone pick their favorite! They can add the amount of heat they’re comfortable with.
- Place the ceviche in a large, chilled bowl and let people spoon it onto individual plates to eat with saltines or cucumber rounds.
- Spoon the ceviche into small avocado halves and serve tostadas, chips or saltines alongside.
- Pile the ceviche onto bite-sized plantain chips or tostadas and pass around for an elegant, upscale appetizer.
- Garnish the ceviche with cilantro leaves or chopped chives before serving.
Can you get sick from ceviche?
It is important to know that unlike traditional cooking, the citrus juice is not killing off any potential bacteria or parasites in the fish. This is why only the best, freshest fish should be used to make ceviche. And most importantly, please remember that not all fish are suited to eat undercooked without some precautions.
All living organisms, including fish, can have parasites. Parasites do not present a health concern in thoroughly cooked fish, but there is a greater risk in raw or undercooked fish. Certain species of fish tend to be more prone to parasites: cod, freshwater fish, swordfish, to name a few, while farmed salmon has lower occurrences of parasites.
Actual illness from parasites in fish is not very common, but to be on the safe side, make your ceviche from commercially pre-frozen fish. Try to avoid freezing the fish yourself; home freezers are usually between 0 degrees and 10 degrees, and may not be cold enough to kill any parasites.
As with any raw fish such as sushi or sashimi, anyone who is pregnant, nursing, or has a compromised immune system should check with their doctor first before enjoying ceviche.
How to Make Ceviche
For the ceviche:
- 1 pound fish or shrimp (such as tilapia, salmon, or sea bass)
- 1 cup fresh citrus juice lime, lemon, or orange
- 1 medium onion finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1-2 roma tomatoes seeded and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1-2 jalapeño chiles minced, seeded if desired, see notes
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro stems removed and minced
- Tortilla chips tostadas, or saltine crackers
- Valentina hot sauce
- Sliced avocado
To make the ceviche:
- Chop fish or shrimp into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Add citrus juice and toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate until the fish is opaque and "cooked" through, about 4 hours (if using cooked shrimp, omit this step).
- Drain off and discard excess citrus juice. Add onion, carrots, tomatoes, jalapeños, and cilantro and toss until evenly coated. Season to taste with salt and more fresh citrus juice if desired.
- Serve on tostadas or with tortilla chips or saltine crackers, passing mayonnaise, hot sauce, and sliced avocado separately. Or, divide ceviche among small clear-glass bowls, wineglasses, or martini glasses.
Nutrition information will vary depending on the type of seafood used. The label below is for Tilapia Ceviche. For comparison, Salmon Ceviche is approximately 451 calories per 1-cup serving and Shrimp Ceviche is approximately 140 calories per 1-cup serving.