One of my favorite memories from childhood involves one of my family’s many summer trips to Colombia. I was about 9 or 10 years old, and we spent part of this particular trip in Medellin at my great aunts’ beautiful Spanish-style mansion (yes, an actual mansion… it’s an entirely different life down there). One afternoon my aunts asked my dad to cook something for them, since they were usually doing the cooking and knew my dad was a great chef. He made an incredible batch of ceviche, a traditional Central and South American dish made of citrus-marinated fish. Most often served as an appetizer, ceviche is also wonderful as a main course when served as a salad, which is what my dad prepared for us that day. I think this was probably the first time I’d ever had ceviche and I was absolutely hooked! Tender, yet firm fish, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, all marinated to with some of the finest limes & lemons; what’s not to love?
Since then, my love for ceviche has blossomed into including the different versions of it, including sweet & spicy and ceviche made with shrimp instead of fish. Though I’m still a purist and think the fish kind is the best, I’m the biggest fan of my mom’s shrimp ceviche, and the version they serve at Midtown Sacramento’s very own Tres Hermanas is to die for. Since my mom’s too far away and I can’t afford to buy Tres Hermanas’s ceviche salad as often as I crave it, I realized I’d have to get off my lazy bum and make my own. I do a fantastic job, but this time around I wasn’t really craving the usual ceviche; what I really wanted to do was see how it would work with some nice bay scallops (and oddly enough, my mom pointed out that a recent edition of Gourmet magazine had featured a scallop ceviche, only made with a lot of extra bells & whistles).
The principles are the same as with the fish & shrimp varieties: use the acidic nature of citrus to “cook” the scallops the same way it would cook fish or shrimp. Since the scallops I had were rather large, I made sure to chop them into much smaller pieces to allow the key lime juice to do it’s whole chemical reaction thing as thoroughly as possible (I’ve worked in the restaurant biz enough to have all sorts of food safety tips running through my head at all times). If at all possible, use key lime juice when making ceviche. Key limes are more commonly used than regular limes in Latin American cooking, and their distinct flavor makes any dish unique. If you don’t have access to key limes that’s okay, but by all means use the key lime if you can; you’ll thank me for it. Also, even though I liked the recipe featured in Gourmet magazine, I still felt like having a more simple, traditional set of veggies and flavoring for my dish. I stuck to the very basics: onions, cilantro, and tomatoes. I served my ceviche on two huge, crisp leaves of romaine that served as my “salad”, and would have definitely added sliced avocado to the meal had I had some on me. I still think the avocado is necessary, so I’m including it in the ingredient list.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try this because it’s not cooked over heat! It’s perfectly safe as the shellfish is most definitely not raw. As I mentioned before, the chemical reaction of the lime juice with the seafood is similar to what heat does to cook food, so you will not have clear, slimy scallops; they will be firm and have almost the same texture as traditionally cooked scallops (the same goes with fish or shrimp). If you’re not a scallop eater, no worries! Just substitute shrimp or a flaky white fish and you’ll have an equally delicious ceviche.
Now if only I could be eating mine on the beaches of San Felipe, Baja California, swinging on a hammock as the gentle waves of the Sea of Cortez lap quietly on the shore…… (Poor Girl really needs a vacation, can you tell?)
Bay Scallop Ceviche (serves 2; average cost per serving: ~ $4.50)
1/2 small white onion, diced
1/2 medium tomato, diced
small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 10-12 key limes
1 T white vinegar
1/2 t garlic salt
1/2 t sea salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of cumin
4 large Romaine lettuce leaves
1 avocado, sliced
Rinse the scallops well & pat dry. Chop them into cubes no larger than 1/2″ and place into a bowl. Add the chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro, and mix together gently. Next add the key lime juice, vinegar, and spices, and stir together well. You should have far more “juice” than scallops but if you don’t, squeeze a couple more key limes into the mix; you want all of your scallops and veggies to be almost completely submerged in the liquid to ensure that everything will marinate thoroughly. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours, or until the scallops are no longer clear on the inside (I chopped my scallops too large so I had to let mine sit overnight).
Arrange a couple leaves of Romaine lettuce onto a plate and spoon the ceviche on top. Add 1/2 sliced avocado, garnish with extra cilantro, and enjoy!