By Steve Poses
As a storm buried Philadelphia in snow and ice, Christina and I landed on the equator, 600 miles out in the Pacific. We stepped off our zodiac, a small boat that shuttled us from our “mother ship,” and into a barren moonscape formed millions of years ago. We’d come to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate the 30th birthday of my nephew Max, along with nine other family members.
The first islands formed here at least 8 million and possibly up to 90 million years ago, the result of volcanic and tectonic activity. Only 3% of the land mass is inhabited, with nearly all of the remaining designated as a national park. Though Ecuador doesn’t have deep pockets, it’s made strong efforts to protect and preserve this world treasure.
Adding to ancient atmosphere are the positively prehistoric-looking marine iguana that densely populate the island. (There are 30 thousand human residents on the Galapagos and many more marine iguanas.) Other creatures of note include gigantic land turtles, as large as 400 pounds and as old as 150 years. And then, of course, there are the blue-footed boobies, one of many aquatic birds but with distinctive blue feet.
As a result of its remote location, the Galapagos is to nature-lovers as Rome is to lovers of art, architecture and, of course, food. In 1835, Charles Darwin arrived on the HMS Beagle and his observation of the finches here were critical to his science and bible-shattering formulation of the Origin of the Species.
By virtue of its equatorial location, the Galapagos gets exactly the same number of hours of daylight and night, 365 days a year. It was hot, in the ’80s during the day, but as they say, it’s not the heat but the humidity that gets you. Oh, and then there is the rocking of the boat. That can get you, too, as it did on our last night when our hearty band had shrunk to five for dinner—and I was decidedly not one of the five.
Still, we enjoyed the eating. Every day, our chef prepared lunch on our boat featuring a ceviche, along with a curry-like stew, often with coconut milk, rice laden with beans, plantains, and fruit for dessert. The popularity of ceviche indicates the culinary influence of nearby Peru, which food cognoscenti have long identified as one of the world’s great and under-appreciated eating destinations.
In its classic form, ceviche starts with thin-sliced fresh raw fish filet, that “cures” or cooks from the action of an acid, typically lime juice, that breaks down the fish’s protein—just like the application of heat will do. Add some diced onion and chopped cilantro and you have your most basic version. (While Christina and I were recently in London to celebrate our own birthdays, we dined at a Peruvian restaurant named Ceviche and I can recommend the book from the restaurant: Ceviche, the Peruvian Kitchen.)
The fish is typically sweet and firm, such as snapper, rather than a strongly assertive and oily fish like mackerel or blue, or it can be made with shellfish (generally pre-cooked except for scallops)
. Our Galapagos ceviche was always served with a bowl of popcorn and thin-sliced plantain chips—optional toppings I’d never seen before.
Ceviches are easy to make and serve. My book, At Home by Steve Poses, A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining, has recipes for three ceviches that I can certainly vouch for. These include Classic Ceviche, Dry Scallops with Pink Peppercorns, and Salmon with Lemon & Toasted Fennel Seed.
6 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1½ teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1½ teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño
½ cup lime juice
½ pound tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
1 pound flounder or red snapper
1 ripe but fairly firm avocado
1/3 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut fish into 3/8-inch squares.
2. In a bowl, combine fish, red onion, garlic, jalapeño and lime juice. Stir well.
3. Cut avocado in half, running a knife around the perimeter through to the pit. Using the tip of your knife, pry out the pit and discard.Cut each half into three long strips. Peel off skin. Cut each strip into pieces the same size as the fish.
4. Cut tomato into ¼-inch cubes. Gently fold tomato and avocado into fish mixture. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and gently stir again.
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