A zesty bite of summer by the sea.
At first glance, ceviche looks like someone forgot to add a binding agent like mayo to a seafood salad. Big chunks of white fish, shrimp or both, finely diced peppers, tomatoes and onions, slices of avocado and, depending on the style, fresh or roasted corn — all tossed together as if someone dropped the mise en place. Scoop it up with a tortilla chip, though, and a refreshing burst of citrus combines with the seafood and veggies to create a briny, zippy bite of summer by the sea.
Ceviche is traditionally attributed to Peruvian cooks, which makes sense, given that the country has 1,500 miles of coastline, making fresh seafood a year-round staple. There are reasons to be suspicious of the dish’s standard origin story, though, including similar dishes in North Africa and the Polynesian Islands. However, it’s entirely possible that a dish featuring citrus-cured fish might emerge in more than one location situated along a large body of salt water.
In terms of its presence on American menus, it’s fairly ubiquitous in Mexican and Tex-Mex concepts, and frequently appears on so-called “modern American” style concepts. In fact, the newly reopened Eatery and Cocktail Offices at The Union — or The Union for brevity — at 616 NW 5th St. in OKC features a pretty straightforward traditional dish but for two tweaks: castelvetrano olives and wonton chips.
“We use wonton chips with other dishes, so we thought we’d see how they held up to ceviche,” said operating partner J. Mays. “The flavor adds something to each bite, and they are hefty enough to scoop any amount. The castelvetrano olives add just a little more brininess to the dish, bringing it closer to a fresh seafood flavor.”
The choice of castelvetranos is important, as their taste is similar to salted butter with a twist of herbaceousness. Other olives would simply overpower the dish, and the wonton chips do add a unique texture to the bite.
Azteca Mexican Grill (4024 N. May Ave., OKC) adopts a more traditional approach, with tilapia, shrimp, avocado and lime juice as the main components. Lime juice is used to denature the fish — shrimp should be fully cooked before serving for safety — a process that changes the properties of a food product. Essentially, citrus acid alters the molecular structure of the food to make it palatable and/or safe to eat.
“We like to use big chunks of seafood in our ceviche,” said operating partner Alejandrina Camarena. “Cut it too small, and you don’t get delicious bites full of seafood flavor.”
If you want to check out a more Peruvian approach, Naylamp (2106 SW 44th St., OKC) goes traditional with aji peppers and lemon juice. You can get ceviche pescado with just white fish, or ask for the mixto, which includes calamari, mussels and shrimp. Mamaveca (2551 Hemphill Dr., Norman) also skews traditional with sweet potatoes, roasted corn and aji peppers, as does Zambrano’s (308 W. Edmond Rd., Edmond) with the delicious addition of “maiz mote” — basically hominy corn nuts without the tooth-shattering characteristic of our childhood snack.
Big Truck Tacos (530 NW 23rd St., OKC) uses a twist on the traditional style with the addition of fresh corn, and it sticks to a more Mexican approach with lime juice. The presence of plump shrimp and no fish makes it tempting to stir in a little of your favorite red sauce or something spicier to make a mashup of shrimp cocktail and ceviche. Food is supposed to evolve, after all.