By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
They were the best kind of couple. He is the quintessential Generation X river guide; she, a Southern sorority girl turned attorney first class. The costume changes each of them make from their professional lives to their after-hours lives is something from the Gatsby era, when people still danced or had someone in their lives they called, “My Bootlegger.”
They were the kind of people you could have over for dinner and think that it was something to write about in the paper. It was only in the past few years that I learned that small towns in North Dakota still report the visiting of relatives in the weekly news. It was the kind of local familiarity that reminds me of the pathways that used to exist between the houses of Old Town Kenai, back when neighbors visited each other by foot instead of via social networking.
With our finished dinner plates still on the table, there was too much storytelling amongst livers (in the Gatsby sense of the word, i.e. drinkers, who would later have liver problems) for anyone to volunteer dish duty.
We were discussing fishing, of course. It was the first time I’d heard the word “ceviche.” It was what they could have made out of the dorado that got away off the coast of Florida. But more correctly, ceviche is freshly caught white fish marinated in lemon or lime juice. The citric acid causes the fish to cook without heat.
What was once thought of as the Latin food trend of the 21st century had actually been practiced by Southern fishermen for years. They would make it at home with the day’s catch, soaked in lime juice, chili powder, onions, garlic, cilantro and a little sea salt. They threw this mix in the fridge before going to bed. The next morning, on their way to the boat, they tossed in some chopped tomatoes. Then they’d have it as salsa with chips as a snack during the day.
Another way, without refrigeration, is to leave the covered mix out in the sun on the boat’s deck to help the acidic action. As I listened to the great ceviche conversation, I couldn’t help but bear in mind that I live in a country that just threw away every single bag of spinach because of the E. coli threat.
The media, via the Food and Drug Administration, encourages the parasite scare. There are countless commercials personifying germs that will come to life out of raw fish and poultry — invisible to the human eye! These germs are often overweight and unshaven with mean dispositions. One commercial even has a germ clad in a white muscle shirt. He says something offensive like, “Thanks for having me over for dinner,” just before he’s wiped away in agony by a pink latex glove carrying a spray bottle of the latest germ-killer formula.
While my dinner mates are talking about how to cut up the fish into inch-size pieces and then let them soak in lime juice, I’m thinking to myself, is lime juice really potent enough to kill Herbie, the obnoxious slovenly germ? (I’m calling him Herbie because his real name, cod worm or anisakis simplex, is even less palatable.) Will lemon or lime really cook the fish? Some conservative ceviche recipes call for a little bit of cooking, “Just to be sure.”
Everyone at the table disagreed that any cooking was necessary. The simple preparation of white fish soaked in lime juice had an undeniable appeal: fresh, simple, healthy. My first thought was to use lake trout, but, given my issues with parasites, saltwater fish would be a better bet for ceviche.
I happened to have some year-old halibut in the freezer. But since fish is mostly made of water, and water expands during freezing, it tears the flesh of the fish and makes it mushy. Halibut is a lean fish, so it cannot withstand the freezer after the seven-day (to kill parasites) rule. I didn’t just want to go fishing, I needed to go fishing!
After dinner was over and the worldly dinner guests gone, the dinner plates were still on the table and I was still thinking about ceviche. I’m incapable of doing the dishes and thinking at the same time. The thought of a fresh fish salsa had ingredients dancing in my head: red onion, green onion, red pepper, Roma tomatoes, avocado. My vegetables were well-dressed (picture fedora hats and 1920s-style flapper dresses).
The next morning, I was off to the lake with my fishing partner. The dishes still weren’t done, and I was still thinking about ceviche. It’s almost a week later as I write this, and I’ve been fishing twice and not yet made a single batch of my own version of ceviche. I’ve stocked all the necessary ingredients (sea salt, cocktail sauce …) for different versions I will doubtless need to try.
At some point, just to annoy Herbie, I went ahead and did the dishes.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cunningham’s story, “Bridge to Nowhere,” will appear in the May issue of Alaska Magazine.
Halibut Ceviche for Cathy
Courtesy of Christine Cunningham
1 cup (8 fluid oz) fresh lime juice
½ cup (4 fl oz) seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 to 4 cloves garlic, mashed
1 red Spanish onion, slivered
1 pound fresh halibut, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
1 mango, peeled, seeded and diced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 bag small tomatoes
Place lime juice, vinegar and onion in a non-aluminum bowl. Add halibut and toss lightly to coat. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight, tossing occasionally. At least 30 minutes before serving, add the peppers, cucumber, mango, tomatoes and herbs. Chill before serving.
Courtesy of René C. Edelman Azzara
2.5 to 3 pounds previously frozen, raw halibut, cut into small chunks
Juice of two limes and one lemon
1 medium sweet onion, diced
6 to 8 green onions, chopped
5 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup jalapeño juice
2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons orange juice
10 oz green olives with pimento, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Marinade the halibut in the lime and lemon juice overnight. Combine onion, green onions, tomatoes, jalapeño juice, cilantro, olive oil, orange juice, olives and oregano and refrigerate overnight. The following day, drain the fish and mix with other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with avocado, chips, chopped jalepeño, Tabasco sauce or salsa.