Sunday, May 31, 2009

Glaciers and Ceviche

Greetings from Alaska!

There are fourteen of us in our family who have gathered to celebrate my grandmother’s 95th birthday. She is an amazing woman, a retired schoolteacher-turned-photographer who has a remarkable zest for life and an insatiable curiosity to see the world. I don’t know of many people in their 90s who would still travel around the globe to photograph volcanic landscapes in Iceland or stunning lions in Kenya, but my grandma has done both of those things in the past three years. I’m not kidding.

By the time you read this I will be back in New York, but I am writing this post from the M.S. Ryndam ship while sailing down the Inside Passage. It is good to take a communications break every once in a while, so I don’t really mind too terribly much that I’m not getting a wireless connection here on the ocean, nor am I complaining that the Verizon network doesn’t extend their coverage to the site of the spectacular Hubbard Glacier!

Even though we only left Anchorage yesterday, it felt as though we had sailed to the northern edge of the earth in the space of a day. As we neared the face of the Hubbard Glacier, the rolling ocean grew quieter and more still as we navigated our way through the floating rafts of ice. I’ve never seen such a brilliant electric blue before as I did on the face of the glacier, and the whole experience was humbling and awe-inspiring all at once. My photos simply cannot do justice to the grandeur and breath-taking enormity of this landscape!

I anticipate eating a lot of seafood in these next few days, which is to be expected when you’re in the middle of the ocean. Before we arrived at the glacier this afternoon, I actually went to a cooking demonstration on the ship at which the chef was making a delicious seafood ceviche. I was able to sample it for myself, and I would love to share the recipe with you today.

Ceviche, a citrus-marinated seafood appetizer, is popular in many Latin American countries, each of which has their own unique spin on the dish. The type of fish used varies, for I have encountered recipes that have called for everything from sole to shark, shrimp to squid. The seasonings will also differ according to each recipe, though there are typically chopped onions and chiles added to most versions of the dish. But the one constant factor running through each ceviche recipe I’ve ever read is that the chunks of seafood are always tossed with a mixture of citrus juices and allowed to marinate for a short time. The citrus not only adds flavor, it also causes the proteins in the fish to break down, thereby “cooking” the fish without the use of heat.

In typical fashion, I took furious notes as the chef made his ceviche using a combination of shrimp, crab, scallops and squid. Whereas most of the ceviches I’ve tasted are seasoned with chiles and cilantro and avocado, this particular one had a slightly Asian flavor, due to the presence of rice wine vinegar and sesame oil in the citrus marinade.

Dinner began shortly after we sailed away from the glacier, and I was very pleased to discover this ceviche on the menu this evening, for I’d only had a small taste of it at the cooking demonstration earlier in the day. I must say that was completely surreal to be eating a dish that I usually associate with warm sunny beach climates, yet I was seeing snow-capped mountains and mini icebergs directly outside. I suppose I will now always associate eating ceviche with seeing glaciers while laughing hard at the dinner table with my spirited grandmother and my lovely cousins. And I don’t see anything wrong with that at all.

Adapted from a recipe from a cooking demonstration on the Holland America Line

If you don’t want to use the whole quartet of seafood presented in this recipe, feel free to substitute more of one ingredient for another to suit your taste. But whatever seafood you decide to use, just make sure not to marinate the ceviche too long, no more than three hours max. You want to give the citrus juices enough time to “cook” the seafood, but if you leave it too long, the seafood will break down too much and turn to mush.

For the ceviche:
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 crab claws, meat removed from shell and cut into ½-inch pieces
16 scallops, cut into ½-inch pieces
32 slices calamari rings, each cut in half
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped (reserving a few big sprigs for garnishing)

For the marinade:
juice from 2 limes
juice from 1 lemon
juice from ½ orange
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
a dash or two of hot chili oil, or to taste
salt to taste

For serving:
8 small red oak lettuce leaves or romaine leaves, cut into ribbons
½ cucumber, peeled and seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice
8 lime wedges

Combine the seafood, onions, corn, red pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add all the marinade ingredients and mix well. Marinate the seafood for at least two hours but no more than three hours. Mix in the cilantro just before serving.

To serve, divide the lettuce between 8 cocktail glasses or small dishes and top with the diced cucumber. Arrange the seafood mixture on top, and garnish with a lime wedge and the reserved sprigs of cilantro. Serves 8.

A magnificent sunset at 10 pm! I wonder what tomorrow will bring...

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