Ceviche is a popular seafood dish that originated in Peru and other parts of Latin America. It is made from fresh, raw fish that is marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with ingredients like onion, chile peppers, and cilantro. The citrus juice “cooks” the fish by chemically breaking down its proteins, resulting in a texture similar to cooked fish. While ceviche can be made from many types of fish and seafood, the most common and traditional choices are white fish with a firm, lean flesh that can withstand the acidic marinade without becoming overly mushy.
The Most Popular Types of Fish for Ceviche
Some of the most commonly used fish for ceviche include:
- Sea bass
- Mahi mahi
These fish are prized for their bright, clean flavors and ability to “cook” evenly in the acidic ceviche marinade. Their firm, dense flesh soaked in citrus takes on a pleasant texture without falling apart. The natural flavors of these mild white fish are beautifully complemented by the fresh, bright notes of the citrus juice and spices in ceviche.
Sea bass is a popular choice for ceviche due to its firm, meaty flesh and mild flavor. It holds up well to the acidic marinade without getting mushy. Sea bass has a mild, slightly briny flavor that allows the fresh flavors of the lemon/lime juice and other ceviche ingredients to shine. It provides a substantial base for absorbing all the bright citrus notes.
Halibut is prized for ceviche because of its delicate, flaky texture that “cooks” beautifully in the acidic lime juice. Its clean, mild taste is the perfect canvas for the bold South American flavors in ceviche. Halibut has high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids that lend a buttery, rich mouthfeel while still retaining the fish’s flaky structure after marinating in citrus.
Red snapper is a common choice for ceviche thanks to its firm, meaty flesh that holds up well to the acidic marinade. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that balances nicely with the bright citrus notes. Snapper provides a hearty, substantial bite but still absorbs all the flavors of the marinade. Its clean taste and delicate flakiness are perfect complements to the acidity of the lime juice and the bite of the onions/chiles.
Tilapia is an affordable, readily-available option for ceviche that has a light, mildly flavored flesh. It has a delicate flakiness that avoids becoming overly mushy after marinating in lime juice. Tilapia has a neutral taste that allows the lime, peppers, onions, and cilantro to shine rather than overpowering them. It soaks up all the bright, bold flavors of the marinade.
Flounder fillets work beautifully in ceviche, turning opaque and taking on a firmer texture similar to cooked fish after marinating. Flounder has a delicate, slightly sweet flavor and soft, flaky texture that complements the acidity of the lime juice. Its mild taste allows the citrus and spices to be the star while still retaining its subtle seafood essence.
Sole is a favorite for ceviche thanks to its thin, delicate fillets that soak up the marinade quickly for fast “cooking”. Its fine flakiness and mild flavor absorb the acidic citrus juice beautifully without overpowering. Sole provides a light, subtly sweet base with a fine, smooth texture contrasting with the crunchy onions and peppers in ceviche.
Cod has gentle flavors and large, chunky flakes that stay intact after curing in the acidic ceviche marinade. Its ability to retain moisture gives it a soft, smooth texture. The mild taste highlights the marinade flavors without dominating. Cod has a thicker, fattier belly section that stands up especially well to the lime juice for rich, sumptuous bites of ceviche.
Mahi mahi has a firm, meaty texture and moderate flakiness that makes it perfect for ceviche. It retains its structure without falling apart after marinating. Mahi mahi has a very mild, slightly sweet flavor that complements but doesn’t overpower the bright citrus marinade. It soaks up all the ceviche seasonings beautifully.
Grouper has a higher fat content that keeps it moist, tender and flaky after “cooking” in the lime juice. It has a savory, slightly tangy flavor that holds up well to the acidic marinade. Grouper’s firm texture provides a hearty, substantial bite. Its rich taste balances nicely with the fresh citrus flavors in ceviche.
Swordfish has a meaty texture and robust flavor that pairs excellently with the tangy citrus marinade in ceviche. Its dense, steak-like flesh retains its moistness and structure after curing. The hearty, fatty bites provide richness to balance the bright acids. Swordfish’s savory taste shines through the lime, onions and peppers.
Other Seafood Options for Ceviche
While firm white fish fillets are the most traditional choice for ceviche, other types of seafood are also popular in different regional variations:
Shellfish like shrimp, scallops, and squid quickly “cook”and take on a firmer, opaque texture when marinated in citrus juices. Their natural sweetness is a perfect foil for the acids. Bivalves like clams, mussels, and oysters cure beautifully, gaining a pleasantly tender bite. Seafood like crab and lobster lend indulgent richness and sweetness to ceviche.
Shrimp is a popular ceviche ingredient, particularly in Ecuador. The sweet, tender shrimp flesh absorbs the bright citrus flavors while quickly curing into a pleasantly firm texture. When marinated in leche de tigre, shrimp ceviche has a delightful seafood flavor that pairs perfectly with the lime juice.
Scallops have a delicately sweet flavor and firm, resilient texture that lends itself well to ceviche. Seared briefly before marinating, the outside caramelizes while the interior cures in the acidic leche de tigre, resulting in a contrast of textures. Scallops absorb all the seasonings while contributing a refined, elegant flavor.
Squid ceviche is common in many coastal regions of Latin America. The tender squid flesh cures into a pleasantly firm, bouncy texture with a subtle sweetness that balances the tart citrus marinade. Thinly sliced squid soaks up the leche de tigre quickly for fast flavor infusion.
Smaller clams like littlenecks work beautifully in ceviche, taking on the flavor of the marinade while gaining a nice plumpness. Their briny seafood essence comes through, playing off the acidic citrus in an exciting way. Clams offer pleasant little bursts of ocean flavor among the spices.
Like clams, mussels open and absorb the ceviche marinade beautifully while retaining their delicate marine taste. They gain a firmer but still tender bite thanks to the citrus juices. The black shells provide nice presentation mixed with chunks of white fish.
Oysters are a luxury ceviche ingredient popular in Peru, where their sweet, briny flavor complements the tangy citrus marinade. Their plump, fleshy bodies soak up the leche de tigre rapidly while gaining a pleasantly firm texture. Freshly shucked oysters lend their elegant ocean essence to ceviche.
Lump crab meat lends its sweet, succulent flavor and luxuriously tender bite to ceviche. It absorbs the acidic marinade while retaining moistness. Crab ceviche often includes mild vegetables like cucumber that complement its delicate taste. The rich crab flavor contrasts beautifully with the tart lime juice.
Lobster tail meat infuses ceviche with its elegant, buttery essence and supple yet meaty bite. The sweet lobster flesh drinks in the bright citrus notes while retaining its indulgent richness. Lobster ceviche is often lightly seasoned to let the natural seafood flavors shine.
The Best Fish for Ceviche Based on Texture
When selecting fish for ceviche, texture is an important consideration for withstanding the acidic marinade. Some characteristics of great ceviche fish include:
- Dense, Meaty Flesh – Fish like sea bass, mahi mahi, and grouper have substantial body that doesn’t fall apart in the lime juice.
- Flaky Structure – Delicate flakiness in fish like snapper, tilapia, and sole soaks up flavors while retaining pleasing mouthfeel.
- Firm and Meaty – Hearty, robust fish like swordfish and halibut maintain their integrity in the acids.
- Buttery and Moist – Fatty fish like salmon and trout retain moisture for smooth, luxurious textures.
Lean, meaty white fish fillets tend to yield the best results texture-wise for ceviche. Their sturdy flesh withstands the acidic marinade well while taking on the pickled flavors. Fattier fish like salmon can sometimes become unpleasantly mushy.
The Best Fish for Ceviche Based on Flavor
Mild, subtly flavored white fish allow the bright citrus notes of the marinade to shine rather than get overpowered. Some of the best choices include:
- Mild and Delicate – Sole, flounder, tilapia have refined, gentle flavors that complement without dominating.
- Clean and Briny -Sea bass, snapper, and cod have light ocean essence that pairs beautifully with lime.
- Slightly Sweet – Mahi mahi, grouper, and trout have a touch of natural sweetness to balance the tang.
While more assertively flavored fish like mackerel can make excellent ceviche, milder varieties tend to be more universally appealing. Their subtle tastes let the citrus and spices come through.
Choosing Sustainable Fish for Ceviche
With many popular ceviche fish like sea bass and grouper facing overfishing, choosing sustainable options helps protect ocean health. Some of the best sustainable fish options for ceviche include:
- Mahi Mahi
- Bay Scallops
- Arctic Char
Seafood watchdog organizations like Seafood Watch offer guides for choosing fish that are responsibly caught or farmed. Look for certification labels like Marine Stewardship Council for wild-caught seafood.
Preparing Fish for Ceviche
To yield the best results for ceviche, preparing the fish correctly is key:
- Use impeccably fresh fish. Ceviche is not a dish to try and “rescue” old seafood.
- For fillets: slice across the grain into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces.
- For whole fish like sea bass: fillet, skin, debone, and cut into chunks.
- Shrimp: peel, devein, and cut along the back to butterfly.
- Scallops: slice horizontally into rounds.
- Let marinate 1-2 hours for fish, and 15-30 minutes for shrimp.
- Don’t over-marinate – fish will get mushy.
Ceviche Marinade Tips
A proper acidic marinade is key to “cooking” the fish. Guidelines include:
- Use fresh lime or lemon juice – do not substitute vinegar.
- A ratio of 2 parts citrus juice to 1 part fish is ideal.
- Let marinate until fish turns opaque, about 1-2 hours depending on thickness.
- Add diced vegetables like onion, peppers, cucumber after the fish is marinated.
- Season with cilantro, salt, pepper to taste – go light on heavier seasonings.
- Add a touch of olive oil or fisherman’s sauce (leche de tigre) to finish.
Balancing the right level of acidity and ingredients is key to perfect ceviche texture and flavor.
Ceviche allows the fresh, bright flavors of seafood to shine thanks to its light, citrus-based marinade. Choosing fish with clean, delicate flavors and sturdy flesh textures yields the most mouthwatering results. Popular picks are mild white fish like sea bass, snapper, sole and halibut, along with shrimp or scallops. Preparing the fish and balancing the marinade correctly results in light, flavorful ceviche with beautifully “cooked” textures. Using sustainable seafood helps ensure the dish remains ocean-friendly for the future.