Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent is upon us

As a littler one, I was raised Roman Catholic and remember going to Mass on Ash Wednesday and omitting red meat from our plates every Friday up until Easter Sunday. During that time I remember eating lots of fish and shrimp cooked in traditional Filipino ways, including shrimp sauteed with garlic or fished cooked on the grill.

Going out to eat can be a challenge sometimes, but you can see all the Lent-friendly menus out around town and they are all clad with fish and shrimp dishes that are sure to please. On the other hand, as a friend implied to me, why not accept it as a challenge and try to cook without meat?

Challenge accepted.

Unless I run out of recipes, I will post a Lent-friendly recipe on my blog every Thursday for readers to try up until Easter. Keep in mind that measurements are not entirely precise because have the tendency to fly by the seat of my pants when I am cooking. Also, a good thing to remember is that fish is interchangeable to a varying degree and can substituted by other similar fish. For example, a white fish like tilapia can be replaced by another white fish like halibut or cod. The prices and sizes will vary also, so experimenting with different fish or shellfish is the best way to learn what you like or don't like. Same thing may go for vegetable dishes, if you don't like Brussels sprouts, substitute another vegetable, like broccoli or whatever sounds good to you as the eater.

This dish is one of my favorite seafood concoctions I came up with when I first moved out to Victoria. The H-E-B Plus! had fresh shark and catfish packaged and put on the rack at near the freezer section and I was eager to cook with them. In New Mexico, there isn't much fresh seafood, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned how close to the water I was and how often I would be able to cook fresh fish.

Citrus ceviche

1 filet of shark, cut into small 1/2-inch pieces
1 filet of catfish, cut into small 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup of small scallops
1/2 cup of shrimp, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch small pieces
1 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup of green chile or jalapeno, diced small (optional)
1/4 cup of yellow onion, diced small
1 medium orange, sectioned and juice reserved
1/2 of a small lime, sectioned and juice reserved
1/4 cup of cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package of tostadas for serving
fresh cilantro, minced for serving
fresh avocado, diced for serving

The thing with ceviche, if you have never made it is that it takes some time. The trick is the acids in the liquid will essential cook the fish and the longer it sits, the better it gets. I serve mine on a tostada with fresh cilantro and tomato. This is the same way I had it when I lived in Zacatecas while I was studying Spanish in college.

There is no real method to this, but the easiest way to do it, so there isn't much cleanup to do in the end is to just use one bowl for everything. Cut up your shark and catfish and place it in a glass or ceramic bowl, as some metals will react to the citrus. Since the scallops are small, they don't need much attention and can be thrown right into the mix.

You can buy the shrimp cleaned already or you can do it yourself. Simply remove the head along with the shell and the tail. Once it is free of it's shell, you should have a shrimp body with dark vein along its spine. With a paring knife, cut just deep enough to reach the vein and continue to cut down to the end of the tail. Then cut the shrimp, depending on the size, into three or four pieces. Add the shrimp to the bowl with the other fish.

Moving on the cooking. Pour about apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup of orange juice into the bowl, leaving the remaining orange juice as a standby if you need more. Peel the orange just as you would a cantaloupe, cutting off one of the ends and cutting off the rind from the top to bottom to expose the flesh of the orange. There should be no bitter skin left on the flesh. Once this is complete, holding the fruit over the bowl to catch all the extruded juices, cut the orange into sections (just like wedges) as close to the skin as possible. You want to try and get as little of the skin as possible, just the pulp and juice sacs of the orange are what you want. In the end, squeeze the last of the juices from the skin that remains and discard. Follow the same steps for the half of a lime, catching the juices in the bowl and sectioning the flesh of the lime.

Combine all the contents of the bowl together well and salt and pepper generously. At this point, you can add the cilantro, onions and chile. Mix again to get all the aromatics distributed throughout. Also, make sure that all the seafood is submerged under the citrus liquid. At this point you take a spoon and sample the mix. You can add more orange juice, more salt, more jalapeno or whatever you want and then you just wait. Place the bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator and let the acidity do its magic.

When you are ready to serve it, dice up fresh avocado and cilantro and spoon the ceviche onto tostadas and enjoy! You can also warm the tostadas in the oven, or a toaster works well on a low setting, just remember to keep an eye on it. The oils in the tostada can heat up and start smoking if you're not careful.

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