Ceviche is a popular seafood dish in Mexico that is made by cooking raw fish or seafood in an acidic marinade, usually containing lime or lemon juice. The acid from the citrus “cooks” the fish without heat. Ceviche is served cold and often includes onions, chili peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, avocado and sometimes orange juice. It’s a refreshing and flavorful appetizer or light meal.
The main ingredients in Mexican ceviche are raw fish or seafood, lime or lemon juice, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, tomatoes and avocado.
What types of seafood are used in ceviche?
Many types of fresh raw seafood are used for ceviche in Mexico, including:
- Fish – The most common fish used are tilapia, bass, red snapper and mahi mahi. Shrimp or prawns are also very popular.
- Shellfish – Clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, abalone, octopus, squid and conch may also be used.
- Surf clams – Known as Pata de Mula clams in Mexico.
- Crab – Lump crab meat is sometimes added.
The seafood is cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated raw. This allows the acid from the citrus juice to “cook” it by denaturing the proteins. Using fresh, sushi-grade seafood is important to prevent illness.
The marinade, also called “leche de tigre” (tiger’s milk) in Mexico, usually contains:
- Lime juice or a blend of lime and lemon juice
- Onions, diced
- Chili peppers, like serrano, habanero or jalapeno, minced
- Cilantro, chopped
- Tomatoes, diced
Some additional ingredients that may be used in the marinade include:
- Orange juice
- Olive oil or vegetable oil
- Maggi seasoning or soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Chopped ginger
- Ground black pepper
- Chopped chives or green onion
The seafood is soaked in this acidic marinade anywhere from a few minutes to up to an hour. The lime juice denatures the proteins and gives the seafood a cooked texture while still keeping it raw.
Ceviche is served chilled, often with:
- Sliced avocado
- Tortilla chips
- Saltine crackers
- Toasted corn
It’s also commonly served with Valentina hot sauce on the side for people who want to add some extra heat.
Some additional garnishes and sides may include:
- Chopped cucumber
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Chopped cilantro
- Pico de gallo
- Diced mango or pineapple
- Spanish olives
Ceviche is often served in a glass or bowl with tortilla chips to scoop it up with.
There are some regional differences in ceviche within Mexico:
- Yucatan – Habanero chilies are used for extra heat. Bitter oranges are squeezed over the dish when served.
- Jalisco – Tomato juice is often added to the marinade for color and extra flavor. Served with sliced jicama.
- Sinaloa – Uses shrimp or mahi mahi. Garnished with chives and often served in cocktail glasses.
- Baja – Uses lobster, fish, shrimp and clams. Garnished with cucumber and avocado.
- Sonora – Uses a chili sauce called salsa furia made with chilies, onion and tomato. Garnished with sliced cabbage.
But the basic ingredients of lime juice, onions, chilies, cilantro, tomato remain the same throughout the country.
Types of Ceviche
There are a few different types and styles of ceviche found in Mexico:
Basic Fish Ceviche
The most common type is a basic fish ceviche made with a white fish like tilapia, bass or snapper. It contains lime juice, onions, tomatoes, chilies, cilantro and is served with avocado, tortilla chips and Valentina hot sauce.
Ceviche Camaron or Ceviche de Camarones is made with shrimp instead of fish. Smaller shrimp or diced shrimp are marinated in the lime juice blend.
Mixed Seafood Ceviche
Various types of seafood are combined, such as fish, shrimp, octopus, squid, and sometimes scallops or clams. This variation offers an array of textures and flavors.
With Mexican poke gaining popularity, some ceviche is served cubed instead of in slices, like a poke bowl. It contains cubes of fish, shrimp, avocado, mango, seaweed salad and is served over rice.
Ceviche served in a cocktail glass, like a shrimp cocktail, sometimes with a little tomato or spicy vodka sauce drizzled over it.
Ceviche is piled atop a crisp tostada tortilla and often topped with slices of avocado and/or grated queso fresco. These are also called ceviche tostadas.
Ceviche is a nutritious light meal, providing:
- Lean protein from the fish and seafood
- Fiber from the vegetables
- Vitamin C from the citrus juice
- Folate from the onions and chili peppers
- Healthy fats from avocado
A 3 oz (85g) serving of ceviche provides around 115 calories, 18g protein, 2g fiber and just 3g total fat when made with tilapia and not heavy on oil or avocado.
It’s lower in calories than fried fish dishes and the fresh lime juice adds vitamin C. The tomatoes provide vitamin A and potassium.
History of Ceviche in Mexico
Ceviche has ancient roots in coastal areas of Peru and Ecuador. It later spread up to Central America and Mexico, where it became a popular appetizer and coastal street food.
The name “ceviche” comes from the Spanish word “escabeche” and refers to the practice of cooking seafood in an acidic liquid.
Some historians believe that ceviche originated in the 16th century when Spanish conquistadors ran out of cooking fuel while exploring the coasts of Mexico and Peru. They improvised by marinating fresh raw fish in citrus juices.
Others think ceviche may have originated even earlier with the Moche civilization in Peru around 2000 years ago. The Moche lived on the northern coast of Peru and may have marinated fish in fermented fruit juices.
Ceviche became a popular dish in Mexico, especially in coastal states. Each region developed its own style using local ingredients. It’s now considered one of Mexico’s national dishes.
Ceviche vs. Escabeche vs. Seco
In Mexico, ceviche is sometimes confused with escabeche and pescado seco:
- Ceviche – Raw seafood marinated in citrus juice and served fresh
- Escabeche – Cooked seafood marinated in a vinegar mixture and sometimes browned
- Pescado seco – Dried, salted fish that is rehydrated before eating
So ceviche specifically refers to raw marinated seafood, while escabeche is cooked marinated seafood. Pescado seco is rehydrated dried fish.
Where to Eat Ceviche in Mexico
Here are some of the best places to try authentic ceviche in Mexico:
- Contramar – Upscale seafood restaurant with creative ceviche
- La Condesa – Trendy spot with good ceviche tostadas
- El Cardenal – Traditional Mexican ceviche since 1945
- La Espadaña – Casual Baja-style ceviche
- El Norteño – Specializes in ceviche tostadas
- Mariscos Ruben – Local favorite for shrimp ceviche
- La Habichuela – Caribbean-style ceviche
- Mandinga – Lively spot with ceviche, salsa, guacamole made tableside
- Alux Restaurant – Upscale ceviche with Mayan theme
- El Arrayan – Casual beachfront restaurant with big portions
- Cevicheria Las Olas – Specializes in ceviche with lots of seafood options
- La Palapa – Romantic place on the beach with ceviche and gorgeous views
- Pitiona – Trendy cevicheria open late
- Los Danzantes – Upscale restaurant with Oaxacan twist on ceviche
- Origen – Sophisticated place with unique ceviche combinations
How to Make Ceviche at Home
You can make fresh, delicious ceviche at home with this recipe:
- 1 lb fresh fish fillets (tilapia, sea bass, snapper), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 small white onion, diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips, tostadas, saltines or corn nuts for serving
- Cut the fish into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a glass bowl. Add the lime juice and lemon juice. Toss to coat evenly.
- Add the onions, tomatoes, jalapeno, avocado, cilantro and salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine.
- Cover bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour, stirring gently once or twice while marinating.
- Serve ceviche chilled with tortilla chips, tostadas, or saltine crackers. Enjoy!
The lime juice essentially “cooks” the fish so it’s ready to eat after an hour of marinating. The ceviche keeps in the fridge for 1-2 days but it’s best fresh.
Tips for Making the Best Ceviche
Here are some tips for making delicious, authentic-tasting ceviche at home:
- Use ultra-fresh, sushi-grade fish. Don’t risk using lower quality fish.
- Cut the fish into small, uniform cubes for even “cooking”.
- Squeeze fresh lime and lemon juice; bottled juice isn’t as good.
- Add diced tomatoes for flavor and color.
- Add serrano or jalapeno chilies for authentic Mexican heat.
- Always chill and serve ceviche cold.
- Marinate the seafood for the right time – not too long or it gets mushy.
- Use good tortilla chips, tostadas or saltines for scooping.
- Garnish with avocado, cucumber or cilantro.
- Enjoy ceviche fresh, right after marinating.
Common Questions about Ceviche
Is ceviche raw?
Yes, ceviche is made with raw fish that is “cooked” by marinating in citrus juice. So it has a cooked texture without using heat.
Is ceviche safe to eat?
Yes, ceviche is safe to eat as long as you use fresh, very high-quality sushi grade fish. Lower quality fish has risks of bacteria, so it’s important to use fresh seafood meant for raw consumption.
How long does ceviche take to marinate?
A marinating time of 1 hour is typical for ceviche. Smaller or thinner pieces may need just 30 minutes. No longer than 1-2 hours or it can get mushy.
Does ceviche need to be refrigerated?
Yes, ceviche should be kept chilled at all times, during marinating and after it’s ready. Store it in the refrigerator until serving time.
Can ceviche marinate too long?
If ceviche marinates for longer than 1-2 hours, the acid can start to break down the proteins too much, making it mushy. For best texture, marinate for 1 hour or less.
Is ceviche gluten-free?
Yes, traditional ceviche without batter or breading is naturally gluten-free. Be sure to use corn tortilla chips rather than flour tortillas.
Is ceviche keto friendly?
Plain ceviche made with fish, citrus juice, onion and cilantro is low in carbs, so it can fit into a keto diet. Skip the tortilla chips and avocado to make it extra low carb.
What is the difference between ceviche and poke?
Poke uses cubed raw fish marinated briefly in sauce. Ceviche marinates longer in citrus juice to “cook” the fish. Poke also has more ingredients added like mango and seaweed salad.
Ceviche is a bright, refreshing dish that captures the lively flavors of Mexican coastal cuisine. The tangy lime juice and spicy chilies pair perfectly with the fresh fish and seafood. While ceviche recipes vary slightly by region, the basic marinade remains an appetizing blend of citrus, onion, cilantro and chili peppers. With its ancient roots and fame as a national dish, ceviche is a must-try experience for anyone visiting Mexico or making Mexican food at home.