Week 27. Panama. Ceviche.

I’ve had a couple of weeks off over Christmas. The first week I didn’t cook as I was frantically wrapping presents the day before Xmas Eve and the second week was because I had lost all concept of what day it was and what I was supposed to do with myself. I get that in the “lost week” between Christmas and New Year. I have never worked that period as my Business is shut and I love the fact that every day is very much the same – yet you know not which is which. All the shops are halfheartedly open and staffed by grumpy hungover folk, all the pubs are busy and sport takes over. For me though it is all about the food. The 24th of December to the 1st of January I take a break from conscience when it comes to food and just let it all go. Usually, aided by a metabolism slower than the seasons, I have to keep a close eye on what I eat and avoid too much fat or late night carbs due to the overriding fear that I will return to my 20-year-old self – the bloke who weighed nearly 20 stone. At that time I was playing rugby a lot so I had been burning huge calories, but then I got injured and didn’t adjust the food accordingly –  I went up by 4 stone in 3 months. I wont let that happen again! So – at Christmas I give myself a break and let myself tuck in, gorge and be very very merry. This year I am certain I ate a whole round of Stilton over the period, and I definitely ate more Chocolate than I had in the 12 months preceding. It was fun, but then it started to bother me. My belt tightened and I am sure (my wife thinks I am mad) my eyes sunk a little – I needed to get back into the normal world and go to work and eat well. So, I drew the next country and it was Panama and that made me happy as I know that in Panama fish is a favourite and fish is low-fat and fresh and clean and good for me. I couldn’t wait to start the dish.

Ceviche broke two records in my cooking travels to date. Firstly it was the dish which took the shortest time to prepare, but secondly it also had to be prepared the longest in advance – 24 hours. Panama is my first Central American Country and is the southernmost. It has Spanish history and influence and is stretched with borders on the North and South and cost on the East and West.With so much coast there is no surprise Fish is influential in Panamanian cuisine and I chose to make Ceviche. Prevalent in many Central and Southern American Countries, Ceviche is fish cooked in a citrus marinate. Contrary to many beliefs, the fish in Ceviche is actually cooked but not by any heat; instead the fish is cooked by the acid in lemon and or lime juice. I chose to cut the fish relatively haphazardly so the marinade was longer at 24 hours but you could slice it very thinly and marinade in 8 or even 4 hours. The fish you need to get hold of is a chunky steak like white fish. I used Pollock on the advice of my fishmonger, but ensure whatever you choose doesn’t flake too much as it won’t hold up well in the overnight marinade and you might end up with a soup.

The ingredients are simple. 1 large fish fillet/ steak, 1 white onion and 1 red onion (finely diced), a stick of celery diced and a red pepper diced. I also added a diced chilli, but that is very optional. In addition I added a chopped handful of coriander and then the task is to cover the whole mixture in lime and lemon juice (I used 4 limes and 2 lemons). Stir it all up, add salt and pepper (large pinch of each) and then cover and put in the fridge for 24 hours. Serve with crackers!

In review, the citrus is pretty strong and got close to my limit on how much I like in a mouthful but just fell short and instead made it taste wonderfully fresh. The cracker mellowed the citrus more and I ended up getting really stuck in. It is difficult to judge on a January night when it is 3 degrees, but I can imagine that eating this in the shade when the outside temperature is 30 degrees this could be fantastic. I recommend – and will be making it again in July!

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