Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ceviche Seduction

My whole body yearned for it; I had to have it. I ached to feel its touch, to understand its delicate sweetness. I heard that it could be rough at times, that it’s an acquired taste. But the truth is, when you’ve had it once, it’s like a drug. It makes your tongue tingle with excitement and heat. It makes you want to scream. You learn its intricacies and its contrasts from person to person. Everyone does it differently. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you want it over and over. You can feel it inside of you - the sensory overload of taste and color and smell - building up into something you can’t contain any longer. I wanted ceviche. I wanted it bad.

Years ago, after first reading Calvin Trillin’s essay, “Desperately Seeking Ceviche,” I knew ceviche was in my future. Trillin’s piece recounts his fateful taxi ride through New York’s Peruvian neighborhoods, sitting down with the taxi driver at several different cevicherias and searching for the best. His descriptions of creamy, tender seafood paired with crunchy vegetables and vibrant citrus made me hunger for what seemed to promise an out-of-body experience, the same kind of golden shimmer that floats over your body during a toe-curling kiss. That’s what ceviche promised for me.

I had done the sushi thing for years, experimented with sea urchin, and conquered the tartare and Hawaiian poke. There seemed to be only one real test of my love for raw seafood. It was ceviche.

To be fair, ceviche isn’t really raw. Scallops, shrimp, squid, or any other preferred seafood, which doesn’t necessarily have to begin with the letter “s,” is marinated for 18-24 hours in a kaleidoscope of flavors. An effervescent mix of lemon and lime juices, garlic, red onion, jalapeƱo, freshly ground black pepper, and inescapable fresh cilantro melt together to create a flavor-infusing fantasy world for the seafood. The acid in the citrus juices denatures and coagulates the proteins, essentially cooking the fish without having to apply any heat. After the marination period, the fish is removed, and fresh vegetables, citrus, and cilantro are chopped and mixed with the now excruciatingly tender, transcendental seafood.

Wow, what an experience. As a girl who eats with her eyes before she even opens her mouth, the sheer exquisiteness of a ceviche is breathtaking. Purple onion, red pepper, green cucumber and cilantro, navel orange segments, and the velvety richness of the white scallop are almost too much to handle. I have to dive in.

First bite, the pulp of the sweet orange sprays my mouth with sunshine. Onion and cucumbers crunch tenaciously between my teeth. All of a sudden, I am transported beachside as the silky bay scallop lies seductively in my mouth. It is overwhelming. I have to close my eyes to let out a sigh.

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