8 Things to Remember When Preparing Ceviche at Home

Ceviche is a dish that just tastes like summer—the freshness of the seafood, brightness of citrus juice, and zest from the seasonings come together to create something simultaneously simple and packed with flavor. While it may seem intimidating to prepare at home, considering that you’re working with raw fish, chef Sam Gorenstein of My Ceviche gave us a a few tips to demystify the process. He placed emphasis on the importance of texture, hand-squeezing your citrus juice (more on that in a minute), and keeping things simple—check out the rest of what he had to say below.

Lara Hata/Getty Images
Lara Hata/Getty Images

These are the two most important steps

“There are two things that I would say you definitely want to be extremely careful [with], and one of them is sourcing high-quality seafood. Fish, shellfish, whatever it is that you would like to prepare,” Gorenstein says. “It has to be super fresh. And two, you want to hand-squeeze the citrus. Everything else, it’s either tradition or preferences, or it comes down to taste, and so forth. But the two things that should never change in the equation should be hand-squeezed citrus juice and super, mega-fresh fish or seafood.”

Keep the marinating process short

“A lot of home cooks and people say that ceviche has to marinate for hours, or even days in the refrigerator sitting in the acid, and it’s not true,” he says. “My preference is no longer than 10 minutes, max. After that, I think it varies from the type of fish or shellfish, but the texture starts really changing. Since you’re dealing with acid and salt, which is a natural dehydrator, there’s a lot of chemical things happening as soon as you start mixing the protein with the acid and salt, and chiles, or onions, and everything else.”

Seriously, hand-squeeze that citrus ...

“I say to hand-squeeze the citrus because when you take a lime or a lemon, or let’s say an orange, and you put it through one of those hand squeezers—you know, the metal ones you flip—you put half of it on one side and then you press,” Gorenstein says. “The rinds of the citrus have natural oils, and as you squeeze more and more, those natural oils of the citrus start rubbing in that citrus squeezer. And the oils will eventually start falling down with the juice, which is going to end up making it bitter. So yes, it is a more painful process to hand-squeeze it, but you’re going to prevent those oils from going into the juice, and you’re going to have a more fresher tasting, more zestier juice when you do that.”

“The other thing is, if you are using a mechanical squeezer, or one of those electric ones, if you really press hard on it and try to squeeze every little drop out of the lemon or the lime, you’re going to start grinding that white rind and that’s really going to affect the quality of the juice. Those are the little details that can really make a great experience or a really horrible one.”

You’ll need these knives…

Gorenstein, who recently partnered with Wüsthof, recommends these two knives:

“If you’re sourcing a whole fish and you want to fillet it, you definitely need a fillet knife to perform that duty, and take the knife to fillet off the bone and skin off the fillets,” he explains. “And then you definitely want to hop on to the chef knife. I like to use an eight-inch blade rather than a 10-inch or a 12-inch. I like a shorter blade, I think you have more control, that’s just my personal preference. That’s what I always suggest to a home cook or someone who’s not as experienced as a professional cook.”

Wüsthof Classic 8 Inch Chef’s Knife, $150 (list price $165) at amazon.com

Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7” Fillet Knife with Sheath, $160 at amazon.com

And a mastery of these cutting skills

“If we’re talking about fish ceviche, you can either cut the fish into cubes, like a half-inch cube, or slice it very thinly, sashimi-style,” Gorenstein says. “You definitely want to julienne the onions, that’s my preference. Cilantro, you want to chiffonade, very thinly sliced. And chili peppers or anything else, you want to finely dice it. And for all of that I always use the chef’s knife.”

Think about texture while you prep

“I always like to reference what the textures will feel like on the bite, you don’t want to have such a big piece of protein and a tiny piece of onion, or cilantro, or pepper—or vice versa,” he says. “You want to make sure that at the end of the day, the seafood is the star of the show. And then everything else is there to complement the flavor and the texture.”

Keep it simple—you don’t want to mask the flavor of the fish

“When you’re starting with super fresh ingredients, you want to let that speak for itself,” Gorenstein explains. “I always try to source whatever is best and at peak, in terms of fish, and pair it, very simply, with cilantro, red onions, and limes. I like to counterbalance the acidity of the limes with a little bit of orange juice, so it’s not too acidic. And then just some sea salt and chile peppers. I love spiciness, so I always go for habanero peppers, but a lot of people don’t like such spiciness, so I would use a more friendlier chile pepper [laughs].”

Remember—ceviche is like wine

“Ceviche is one of these things where you can do pretty much anything you want, it’s like wine,” he says. “No one can tell you what’s a good wine, it’s whatever you like. I think as long as you start from the basic concept of squeezing your citrus juices and sourcing great, high-quality seafood, then you can play around with the rest.”