wizards, ben franklin, and raw food week.

it’s imagination time.

let’s say a guy with a beard and a sweet hat shows up on your doorstep and politely informs you that he is a wizard.  as skeptical as you are of his claims, you probably do something nice somewhere in the story (like give him an ice-cold glass of lemonade or massage his feet or something) and he tells you that in return he will magically place you into any socioeconomic class you like.  i think most people, including myself, would swallow their guilt and go with “filthy stinking rich.”  and poof, just like that, happily ever after.  foie gras, black truffles, the finest aged cheeses, filet mignon, and black caviar every day until you happily die of gout.

and now, back to the real world.

do you have a socioeconomic wizard on your doorstep?  yeah, i didn’t think so.  it’s okay, i don’t either.  and while disney’s alladin, the tale of king midas, and many other non-fictional stories verified by hard, factual evidence lead us to believe that magic is the fastest road to riches, some trail-blazing individuals believe saving money is a far more effective solution.  at least that is what benjamin franklin thought.  and he was kind of like a wizard, only in real life.

so in the spirit of super long esoteric introductions (and saving money), i have decided this week to abstain from using my stove.

while the cheapest option would be to not eat food at all, dying of malnutrition is not in the best interest of my blog.  so instead, i will do all my cooking this week without the use of heat.

no stove, no toaster oven, no hot water.  in other words, raw foods or no foods.  will i be severely limited in my ability to prepare delicious food?  you bet your bottom dollar i will.  will i be hard-pressed to find any way at all to eat meat?  you know it.  will i give up and have a steak in less than 24 hours?  there is a distinct possibility.  but you know what, challenges make us stronger.

raw food mode: engage.

japanese tuna ceviche

ceviche6

so let’s say that a person on a raw food binge wanted to eat meat/fish.  not a chance, right?  yeah, well, not quite.

ceviche is, in its most basic form, just acid and bits of raw fish.  in all honesty, its preparation is really not that much more complex than it sounds.  the complexity of ceviche lies in the timing, intensity of chemical reactions, and balance of flavors.  while originally (supposedly) a central/south american dish, ceviche can theoretically be spiced however the chef pleases.

acid is the key to making the fish safe to eat.  lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and vinegar are all highly acidic, which means that they have the ability to denature proteins.  when beef and pork are denatured by acids, they tend to soften up and become more susceptible to the absorption of flavors.  when fish becomes denatured, it actually changes color and texture, much like as if it were grilled or cooked in a frying pan.

are there dangers to eating raw fish?

you bet your butt there are.  a simple acid marinade doesn’t sterilize your meat like heat will.  lemon and lime juice won’t kill parasites or resistant bacteria.  so why risk it?  well, if your fish is really super fresh and you trust the source, there isn’t much to be scared of.  and as luck would have it, i happen to live in a country where seafood can’t get too much fresher without jumping off the rack, flopping about on the floor, and gasping for air.

here’s to you, japan.

you’ll need:

  • a block of super fresh sashimi-grade maguro (tuna)
  • three cloves of garlic
  • fresh ginger
  • soy sauce
  • black pepper
  • sesame oil
  • acid (lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice)
  • half a white onion
  • chinese hot pepper
  1. i cannot begin to stress this enough.  the freshness of the fish is key.  japan is special because in most grocery stores, they have what are called saku cuts of fish.  saku are blocks of fish that are ready to be sashimied.  all you need is a really super sharp knife and you are good to go.  they contain no bones and generally come in all kinds of tasty varieties.  while the real purpose of these cuts is to allow people to make tasty sashimi at home (instead of buying the premade packs that have subpar value), they are ideally suited for ceviche.  if you don’t live in japan, ask your local fishmonger about the quality and age of the fish.  if you aren’t confident, don’t go for it.  it is just that simple.  remember, safety first.
  2. slice your fish into bite-sized cubes.  make sure to use a super sharp knife, and try to slice all the way through the fish with a single motion.  sawing will produce jagged and uneven cuts of fish, which will ruin your presentation and texture.  once cubed, put the fish into a plastic bag.
  3. slice the onion super thin.  mince the garlic and ginger as fine as you can get them, and set a tiny pinch of both aside as garnish.  add all three to the bag with the tuna.
  4. season.  be very careful with the chinese hot pepper and sesame oil.  too much will completely eclipse the flavor of the dish.  ceviche is all about balancing flavors and bringing out the texture of the fish.  it will be sour because of the lemon juice, and you want to keep it that way.  too spicy or too nutty, and the aftertaste will be weird and unnatural.
  5. add the acid.  there should be enough lemon juice to cover the fish once the bag is sealed.  in my experience, for a moderately sized chunk of fish, this will come to about one and half lemons worth of juice.  if you don’t want to worry about seeds, it is 100% okay to go with lemon juice from a bottle.
  6. seal the bag, and put it in the fridge for about three hours, giving it a shake now and again.  oil will significantly slow the denaturing effect of the acid, so you may want to consider adding it in after as a flavoring if you are in a hurry to eat.  without oil, it should only take about an hour or so.
  7. drain off half of the lemon juice once finished, and serve on a bed of greens or with bread.  it looks and tastes gourmet, and the fact you made cooked fish without cooking will impress even the most stalwart of cooking curmudgeons.

makes an appetizer sized serving for 4 people.

old world salmon ceviche

ceviche5

oldies are not necessarily goodies.  but in the case of traditional dishes like ceviche, we can all make exceptions.  some of the greatest flavors latin america has to offer are combined into this one dish, which is why it has become a ridiculously popular food all over the world since the 1980s.  although normally made with snapper or other firm white fish, it is the seasoning and method of denaturing that really gives this dish its old world flair.

you’ll need:

  • a block of super fresh sashimi-grade salmon
  • half a red onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • ground coriander
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • lemon and/or lime juice
  • hot sauce
  • a hot chili or two (optional)
  1. slice the fish into cubes.  use your knife smoothly to prevent jagged or tattered pieces.  add them to a plastic bag.  if you are confused, consult the instructions above.
  2. mince your garlic, and slice your onions super thin.  red onions tend to be a little more eye-wateringly spicy, so you might want to run your knife under super hot water first or turn on the range fan.  goggles are always an option as well (if you want to look like a ceviche-making buddy holly, that is).
  3. add salt, black pepper, and ground coriander to taste.  coriander is the key here.  fresh cilantro can be hard to find in japan, so i tend to go a little heavy on it.  if you have fresh cilantro at your disposal, feel free to cut back on the ground stuff and use the leaves as a garnish for a little bit fresher flavor.  finish off with one or two dashes of hot sauce.  most hot sauces contain a fair bit of vinegar, which will assist in the denaturing process.
  4. if you chose to include chilis, cut off the stems and mince them.  make sure not to put your hands anywhere close to your eyes (especially if you chose some really hot chilis).  if you do, make sure to flush your eyeballs with cold water for a good while.  if you are really burning and feel like it isn’t stopping, you can use milk to quench the heat, but then you have to deal with having milk in your eyes.  add the peppers to the bag once your retinas are done burning.
  5. olive oil can be added now, but as with the recipe above, it will significantly slow the marinating process.  instead, i advise adding it after the denaturing is finished.
  6. squeeze in your lemon and/or lime juice.  make sure that the fish in covered completely.  like above, pop it in the fridge and turn it on occasion.  you should be able to see a difference in the fish when it is ready to be consumed.
  7. drain off some of the lemon juice and serve on top of greens or with toast.  salmon has a really great texture, and it only gets better when you serve it with thick-sliced avocado and fresh tomato.  most people tend to include tomato in the mixture, but i like the acidity of my ceviche really super strong, and the water content of tomatoes can tend to ruin that.
  8. take some photos, keep them in your wallet, and brag to all your friends.  or save the time and effort by just inviting them over for dinner next time.

makes an appetizer serving for 4 people.

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