Foods You Should Know: Civeche

Consuming raw seafood can be a daunting task for the beginner foodie but a Latin American dish can be a great gateway to new food experience and not to mention just an amazingly fresh and clean flavoured way to prepare your favourite seafood.

This Central and South American technique of using citrus juice to cook seafood is a great way of putting a twist on fresh seafood. The word Civeche comes from the spanish word Escabeche which means “to Pickle”, though the technique of using the acidity of citrus fruit to cook meat is not a European technique, It comes from the indigenous peoples of coastal Central and South America.

Making civeche is actually a pretty simple preparation but what you for sure need is fresh seafood i.e. white low oil fish like mackerel or tilapia, squid, octopus, scallop, or shrimp. Lime or Lemon Juice is then added to the seafood and tossed this will begin the cooking process, salt for seasoning, then other regional/seasonal ingredients are added to the marinade. Of course, as I have said many times, simple does not mean easy.  Civeche is all about timing and making the dish to order, but there is literally nothing like a perfectly made civeche.

Like most other foods I’ve talked about in this blog, Civeche is a very regional dish. Depending on where the style originates from and what is seasonally fresh you can have a huge variation in what goes into a typical civeche.

In Peru, who’s national dish is civeche, there are literally hundreds of different regional/seasonal civeches that range from light and almost perfumed to exceptionally creamy and in some cases incredibly spicy. Sea Bass, octopus and squid are common.

In Mexico we see civeche that includes avocado, chilies, salsa, and tortilla chips to use as a scoop in many cases.

In Equador where they have an exceptionally acidic type of tomato use the juice of this tomato in place of citrus to create a red civeche. As well they use oysters, and barnacles to create a super earthy flavoured dish.

Panamanian civeche is much like Mexican civeche but they serve it with a puff pastry called Canastitas.

Cuban Civeche normally will include Mahi Mahi or Tuna.

Now civeche isn’t always the best choice. Freshness is paramount and eating bad fish or shellfish can be a very dangerous proposition. This is why trusting your local fishmonger or restaurant is key before you eat a raw application of seafood. Even though the flesh has been slightly cooked by the citrus there can still be many types of bacteria, and parasites present. So it really isn’t a totally safe application. But if you want to leave on the wild side and push your food boundaries than civeche is a great dish to try.