Find out the science behind ceviche and how to make it at home. Includes tips for type of fish, length of marinade time, and doing make-ahead ceviche.
Ceviche is a wonderful appetizer that definitely feels special but is fairly easy to make. Yes, it does involve raw seafood which may not be for everyone, but it does get “cooked” with a special process with acidic ingredients.
Learn what kinds of fish work best and more great tips below or click here to head straight to the recipe.
What Is Ceviche?
Ceviche is a popular Latin American dish that is made by soaking, or macerating, raw seafood in an acidic liquid. Different countries all have their own versions, some use fish like sea bass or snapper and others use shrimp or scallops. You can try my fantastic Shrimp Ceviche recipe and Tuna Tartare too.
I’ve heard it said that ceviche is fish that is cooked using citrus juice, but that isn’t entirely accurate since the definition of to cook involves heat. There is no heat used when making ceviche so it is technically incorrect to call it cooked.
Instead, what happens with ceviche is called denaturing. This is a chemical process that changes the proteins in the fish to make it firm and opaque, appearing as though it was cooked. (Note that to cook something is also a form of denaturing. That is, cooking and bathing in citric acid are both processes that alter the chemical and physical properties of food).
How to Make Ceviche
To make ceviche you marinate fish for a fairly short time in citric acid. We went with a combination of lemon and lime juice. We also put some minced onion in there for added flavor.
After it has marinated, you get to add in some other ingredients. We always add some kind of hot pepper to ours, either jalapenos or red chilies, minced. I also liked chopped tomato, avocado and a good bit of cilantro. Freshly squeezed orange juice and some olive oil usually find their way into the mix. And a nice bit of salt. Don’t forget the salt.
You can add other seasonings too. Cracked black pepper, smoked paprika and chili powder are all good options.
How Long Does Ceviche Take To ‘Cook’?
You want it to just be opaque and starting to “cook” through. You don’t want it actually flaking and falling apart. For fish sliced 1/4 inch thin, as we’ve done, 20-30 minutes is ideal. Marinate the ceviche in the fridge and then serve as soon as it’s ready.
Some people marinate the fish a lot longer than we have recommended. If you like the fish a little drier and fully flaky, then you can marinate for much longer, an hour or even more. But if you like it firmer, think slightly flaky on the outside with a firmer sushi-style texture in the middle, then don’t go more than 30 minutes.
What Kind Of Fish For Ceviche?
Very fresh fish is the best for ceviche! Go to your shop and ask the fishmonger what is freshest on the day you’re making your ceviche. Tell them you want a firm white ocean fish that is as fresh as possible. Grouper, sea bass, and sole are great choices.
A Tip For Ceviche At A Dinner Party
Ceviche is not a make-ahead dish, at least not if you like yours on the firmer side. If you like it flakier, you can marinade for longer and then it is a natural make ahead option.
Instead, to do make-ahead ceviche, you can get everything prepped ahead of time. Slice your fish and get it back on ice in the fridge. Chop your onion and jalapenos. Juice your lemons, limes, and oranges. Cut up the tomatoes and avocados.
Then 30 minutes before serving the ceviche, toss the fish with the lemon, lime, and onion. Put it in the fridge. Then add your other ingredients, top with cilantro, and serve. It’s pretty easy, really. And pretty impressive too. Well done, you!
Serve the ceviche with tortilla chips or tostadas like they do in Mexico. You could also serve this appetizer with an assortment of crackers.
More Great Seafood Recipes
If you love seafood, we’ve got a wide variety of recipes for you to try.
- Fish Cakes Recipe
- Crispy Air Fryer Fish
- Shrimp Scampi Appetizer
- Salmon Poke Bowl
- Grilled Fish with Fresh Salsa
- Baked Asian Salmon
Podcast Episode About Making Ceviche
Listen to me explain briefly about how to make this recipe, with some great tips along the way, by clicking the play button below:
- 1 lb. firm white ocean fish (like grouper, sea bass, or sole), in 1-inch pieces sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 medium sweet onion, small dice or sliced very thinly
- 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed then minced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (more for garnish)
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- Tortilla chips
- In a medium bowl combine the fish, lemon and lime juices and onion. Put it in the fridge and let it marinade for 20-30 minutes, until the fish looks cooked on the outside but still has a firm sushi-style texture in the middle.
- Drain. Add avocado, tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, orange juice, olive oil and salt. Stir gently.
- Garnish with more cilantro and serve immediately with tortilla chips on the side.
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This post originally appeared in July 2016 and was revised and republished in February 2023.