Habanero Ceviche

ceviche_johnsonThe Mexican coastlines of the Pacific, the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean yield an amazing quantity and variety of fish and other seafood. Early in the morning, the market stalls are piled high with the fresh catch, and, in a few hours, the fresh fish, shrimp, and shellfish are finding their way into restaurants and homes.   I’ve fished out of Guyamas and Cozumel and caught red snapper,  grouper, and one huge dorado.  I’ve also collected a large number of authentic Mexican seafood recipes that were published more than a decade ago in my book Hot & Spicy Mexican.

I love ceviche, but some of my friends won’t eat it because they think it’s raw fish.  Ceviche is not cooked fish; however, it’s not raw, like the fish in sashimi and sushi. When you cook fish, the protein muscle fibers coagulate. This a chemical process that changes the fish from soft and slightly translucent to firm and opaque. The fish in ceviche is also firm and opaque but the same chemical process is accomplished by marinating it in lime juice, in the refrigerator.  Thus ceviche is “cold-cooked” fish.  Will this process eliminate parasites?  Deep-sea fish are relatively free of parasites, but fresh fish from shallower waters and fish such as salmon, that spend part of their lives in fresh water, may be contaminated with roundworms or tapeworm larvae. Cooking fish with heat kills these parasites, but marinating in lime juice may not. When in doubt, freeze the fish, keeping it at zero degrees F. for three days. This will kill the parasites, making the defrosted fish safe to be eaten cold-cooked or raw.  One of my favorite seafood recipes is ceviche (also spelled seviche), and over the years I’ve collected recipes from Peru, Ecuador, and Chile, as well as this one from Mexico.

Red Snapper Ceviche

Although the recipe given here makes use of one fish only, any number of seafood items including other fish, scallops, shrimp, octopus, and crab may be used singly or in combination in preparing a ceviche. Many chefs will add some white wine to the mixture; the Ecuadorian version of ceviche calls for olive oil.  Some chile-lovers like their ceviche fiery hot, so in the interest of authenticity, don’t skimp on the minced chiles or hot sauce.  Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

1 pound red snapper fillet
Juice of 8 limes
Juice of 2 lemons
1 habanero chile, stem and seeds removed, minced or substitute habanero hot sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 large red onion, cut in strips and then soaked in cold salted water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut the snapper fillets into pieces about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide. Do not use pieces any larger than that, as they will not be properly “cooked” by the citrus juices.

In a large glass bowl, marinate the fish in the lime and lemon juices. Cover and let sit for one hour.

Chop the chiles, removing any seeds, and soak the chiles in a bowl of cold water. Julienne the red onion and soak in another bowl of cold water.

Add the chiles and onion to the fish, mix well and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Varies, but usually hot

Remember, for more hot and spicy recipes, visit the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite!

AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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