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What is Seviche?

By J. Leach
Updated May 17, 2024
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Seviche, also called ceviche and cebiche, is raw fish chunks that have been marinated in citrus juices and herbs. Lime is the most popular citrus used in this dish. The acidic juice added to it actually cooks the fish by causing a chemical reaction. The origins of the recipe have been greatly debated, but what is known is that there are different variations of it found all over the world. It is often served as an appetizer in restaurants.

It seems likely that the dish originated in Spain because nearly every area where Spaniards were active — like the country's colonies — has its own version of seviche. It may very well have been developed by Spanish sailors, who used items on board their ships to prepare food. The ingredients would have been available because ships could procure fish while they sailed, and were often well-stocked with citrus because the fruit is a powerful weapon against scurvy.

Scurvy is a disease that often plagued sailors of long ago, and is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C and ascorbic acid. Its symptoms can include bleeding mucous membranes, spots on the skin, spongy gums, and loss of teeth. Ascorbic acid is a sugar acid that has antioxidant properties and is present in most citrus fruits.

When raw fish is mixed with citrus juice, it undergoes a chemical change. The flesh, which is usually translucent when raw, becomes opaque. The ascorbic acid also tenderizes the meat, which is why it is often used in marinades for other proteins as well. Through this process, the fish is cooked without actually using any heat or fire, and this may have been very popular and convenient on board a ship.

To prepare a seviche, fresh fish is cut into chunks. It is imperative that the fish be as fresh as possible, because even when prepared it is still technically raw. The most popular types of fish used in seviche recipes are sole and the red snapper. Typically, a marinade is made by combining lime juice, onions, green bell pepper, chili peppers, and cilantro. Place the fish in a non-metallic dish and make sure to cover it completely with the lime juice marinade. Allow it to marinate for a few hours. Shellfish is sometimes used in a seviche, but it is often steamed and chilled before being added to the marinade. It is often only allowed to soak in the lime juice for about an hour because it has been precooked.

Some seviche marinades call for a mixture of juices. For instance, lemon and lime juices can be mixed with chopped red onion and diced tomatoes. Oregano is a good herb for this seviche marinade because it pairs well with the lemon and tomato. If a spicy flavor is desired, then a little hot pepper sauce can be added to give it heat.

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