What Is Ceviche?

Learn about ceviche, a citrus-marinated seafood dish hailing from Peru, from its history to how to make it at home.

From vibrant poke bowls loaded with ahi tuna, rice, and dried seaweed to sushi served over hand-balled vinegared rice, raw fish dishes are a delicious staple of coastal cuisine. Another raw fish entrée you have probably seen on menus: Ceviche, pronounced "seh-vee-chay" and sometimes spelled as seviche or cebiche.

Here we'll explain this dish's South American history, flavorful ingredients, and essential tips for making ceviche at home. Find out more about this citrus-marinated seafood dish hailing from Peru and unique recipes to try.

Spicy Tuna Ceviche

Photo: Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Erin Merhar

What Is Ceviche?

Ceviche is a seafood dish where diced cubes of raw fish, marinated in a lemon or lime juice mixture, react with the citrus juices to cure the fish protein and causes it to become opaque and firm while absorbing flavor.

Called denaturing—a process you're probably more familiar with using heat (cooking)—this reaction achieves a similar effect. Fish is served, after curing, with colorful seasoning elements such as onions, cilantro, and peppers. It's a simple and bracing dish where fresh fish and bright flavors are on display.

Origins of Ceviche

The ceviche method of preparing fish is elemental to coastal South American cuisine and was born out of the need to preserve food. The actual birthplace of the dish isn't apparent: The Incan Empire preserved fish with fruit juices, salt, and chili peppers, and the introduction of limes from Spanish conquerors brought citrus juices into the picture. Some sources even indicate origins as far away as the Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific. Regardless of the exact origin, Peruvian kitchens and restaurants offer the most varied and plentiful examples of this dish. Peru has even declared ceviche its national dish.

Variations of the dish exist across South and Central America. Ecuadorian ceviche tosses shrimp and tomato sauce into the marinade, and crispy tostadas or tortilla crisps accompany Mexican ceviche or the similar Aguachile (shrimp drizzled with a chili-infused lime mixture just before serving) from the northern Pacific coast of Mexico. Caribbean styles include a creamy touch from coconut milk. Even within Peru, a Japanese-Peruvian version called Nikkei adds another layer of variation with finely cut fish amidst soy sauce, togarashi, and sesame oil. The dish made its way onto American plates in the 1980s, when Caribbean flavors came from Florida.

Lime and grapefruit juice pair deliciously with mango, pineapple, and red bell pepper in this island-inspired combo.
Photo: Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Erin Merhar

Best Fish and Ceviche Ingredients

The essential ingredients of any ceviche are raw fish, citrus juices, and seasonings. The first and most important to discuss is the raw fish. The best way to guarantee the freshness and flavor of your dish is to buy fresh fish from a fishmonger or fish counter you trust. Tell them you're making ceviche so that they can offer insight on what catch is optimal on that particular day, but still use your judgment when selecting fresh fish. Fresh fish smells briny and not fishy and is firm to the touch. And always purchase seafood the same day you're planning on making ceviche.

White, firm, flaky fish is optimal for ceviche, as this texture allows the flavors to be absorbed more easily. The best fish for ceviche includes snapper, sea bass, halibut, mahi-mahi, fluke, flounder, red snapper, halibut, and sashimi-quality tuna. Some versions also call for shrimp, scallops, squid, or octopus in the mix. A note on shrimp or other shellfish: Always blanch shellfish (cook in boiling salted water until opaque, then plunge into ice water to cool) to guarantee food safety.

The ceviche toppings add important texture and flavor elements that balance the dish. Peruvian iterations include corn, cooked sweet potato, and green herbs such as cilantro and basil that play nicely with the dish's refreshing flavors. Tropical sweetness can come from mangos, papayas, or pineapples, crunchy spice from habaneros and bell peppers, and even creaminess from avocados (bonus: the acid in the mixture keeps the avocados from browning). Popcorn or toasted corn kernels are other favorites for adding a bit of crunch to ceviche.

How to Make Ceviche

Even across recipe variations, the basic steps of making ceviche remain the same. Dice the fish and marinate in citrus juices in the fridge. To make things go even smoother, wrap fish in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator until you begin dicing—this will preserve the fish's texture and flavor. Also, use a long, sharp knife to avoid damaging the delicate seafood.

When marinating the seafood (completely covered, as exposure to air can cause an inconsistent texture), timing is everything. Too short can mean too raw, but longer doesn't mean better—the longer the fish "cooks," you risk gummy, over-cooked seafood. Generally, the protein will firm up after 10 to 15 minutes. Between 15 and 25 minutes, it hits "medium," and after 25, it becomes "medium-well." Keep an eye on the fish and marinate it to the rawness of your liking, then add toppings and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Ceviche Recipes

Ready to try your hand at Peru's national dish? Call on your fishmonger, pick your catch, start juicing some citrus, and use one of the following recipes for an exciting seafood entrée, no heat required.

Shrimp Ceviche
shrimp ceviche. Larisa Blinova / Getty Images

Peruvian Ceviche with Leche de Tigre

Leche de Tigre ("tiger's milk") is the citrusy, spicy marinade used in traditional Peruvian ceviche. Pair bay scallops with sweet potato, corn, and chilis, plus a topper of corn nuts for a delicious crunch.

Gulf Coast Crab-and-Flounder Ceviche

South America, meet The South. Pickled okra pods, lump blue crabmeat, and flounder fillets get the ceviche treatment in a dish meant for Gulf Coast summers. Pro tip: Grill ears of corn before removing the kernels for a charred element.

Shrimp and scallops are very quickly boiled before joining cubed watermelon, oranges, and mint.
Photo: Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Erin Merhar

Watermelon-Shellfish Ceviche

Ceviche is a logical summer dinner when even the thought of turning on the oven sends a heatwave through your beach house. Why not add watermelon, summer's fruit mascot, to the mix? Just be sure to blanch the shellfish before marinating, then top with orange segments and mint leaves for a truly summery dish.

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Southern Living is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. National Geographic. Ceviche: the surprising history behind Peru’s raw fish dish.

  2. Machu Travel Peru. What is Peru’s national dish?

  3. Aggarwal U. America’s Favorite Recipes, Part Ii: The Melting Pot Cuisine. iUniverse; 2013.

  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Meat, poultry & seafood - food safety for moms to be

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