Bright, briny mackerel makes a hell of a ceviche. Photo credit: Roger Stowell/StockFood
The dog days of summer are just around the bend, and with them will come a desire for hammocks, reggae, The Beach Boys, fruity cocktails, guacamole, and ceviche—that light-as-can-be, thank-goodness-for-Peru dish of fish lightly “cooked” in citrus for as little as 45 minutes. When executed properly, then served to overheated diners, it’s miraculous—like edible A/C.
At Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Vernick Food & Drink, chef-owner Gregory Vernick makes a killer one: He laces Spanish mackerel—“it’s briny, it can take on big-impact flavors”—with a floral mint oil and bracing aji amarillo chili pepper vinaigrette, sprinkling the whole with piquant pickled onions, buttery pistachios, and creamy avocado.
The raw fish menu options are what get Vernick “most excited,” he told us. “I love seafood!” Although the dish was loosely inspired by Vernick’s time in Japan, he takes it in a distinctly Peruvian direction—“It’s easy to fall into a Japanese direction when working with raw fish; it’s easy to dip it in soy sauce”—using Peruvian chile paste, and not a drop of soy.
We wrangled the version of the mackerel ceviche Vernick serves, but if its ingredient list looks too intimidating, he also gave us a super-simple four-ingredient recipe you can make right after work, stumbling in the door at the tail end of a long day.
Simply squeeze a lime or two, open a can of coconut milk, dash off some hot sauce, and toss a piece of mackerel or red snapper into the fridge for 45 minutes. The result is a fresh, bright piece of fish you can eat over a big bowl of rice, dotted with avocado. Easy as can be, it’s a summer stunner—the sort of dish that gives a whole new meaning to “Holy Mackerel.”
Easy Mackerel Ceviche
From Gregory Vernick, chef-owner of Vernick
One 3-6 oz fillet of Spanish mackerel or red snapper (skin on)
3 Tbsp coconut milk
2 Tbsp lime juice
Hot sauce (preferably Tabasco or Frank’s)
1/2 avocado, diced (optional)
Place fish in glass dish with high sides. Whisk all ingredients together. Pour over fish; place, covered, in refrigerator. After 45 minutes to one hour, check on fish. Look for opacity and a bright white color on the outside of its flesh. (Vernick prefers the interior to have a little bit of rawness). Serve fish over hot white rice, pouring the marinating liquid over the rice. Garnish with avocado and hot sauce, if desired.
Spanish Mackerel Tiradito
From Gregory Vernick, chef-owner of Vernick
Serves 4 as an appetizer
3 oz of Spanish Mackerel or red snapper, filleted and skin removed
2 Tbsp. Aji Amarillo Vinaigrette (see below)
1 Tbsp Pickled Pearl Onions (see below)
1 ripe avocado
1 tsp Mint Oil (see below)
1 Tbsp toasted, chopped pistachios
Mint, fresh, approximately 6 leaves
Aji Amarillo Vinaigrette
3 Tbsp Aji Amarillo Paste (buy online) or hot sauce, such as Green Tabasco
1 Tbsp crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
½ oz fresh ginger, peeled
1 tsp lime juice
½ tsp soy sauce
½ tsp fish sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
Blend all ingredients until very smooth.
Pickled Pearl Onions
6 red pearl onions, sliced thin along their equators and separated into rings
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1.5 Tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
6 whole black peppercorns
4 whole allspice
Toast all spices and place into a sachet. Place all ingredients except onions in a small pot and bring to a full boil. Cool liquid to room temperature and pour over onions. Let sit overnight. Store pickles in an airtight container, refrigerated, for two to three weeks.
1 cup fresh mint leaves
½ tsp Kosher salt
2 Tbsp Vegetable oil
Blanch mint leaves for 10 seconds in boiling water, remove using a slotted spoon, and immediately shock it by submerging it in ice water for 10 seconds. Squeeze out any excess water. Blend with oil and salt until smooth. Place mixture in small glass bowl set in bigger bowl full of ice to cool rapidly. Store mint oil in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to three days.
Slice mackerel into ¼ inch slices cutting against the grain of the fish. Cut avocado into medium size dice.
Spoon vinaigrette onto bottom of plate. Arrange fish and avocado on top of vinaigrette. Season to taste with Kosher salt. Arrange a few pearl onion pickles on top of avocado and fish. Sprinkle pistachios on top. Drizzle with mint oil and garnish with a few small pieces of freshly torn mint.
Photo courtesy of Vernick.