Latin American Cuisine: Lobster Ceviche
Editor's Note: A few weeks back, you, the Serious Eats Community mentioned in a Talk thread that you wanted to see some more coverage of Latin cuisines from the Americas South of Mexico. Well you spoke, and we listened. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.
Most South and Central American ceviches start with completely raw fish, using the power of the acid in a citrus-based marinade to denature proteins, giving the fish a "cooked" texture. However, not all ceviches are made with completely raw seafood. Shellfish are often par-cooked and served more like a salad with a tart, citrus juice dressing.
The first time I had lobster ceviche in this style was off of a boat in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I say boat, but that's being a bit generous. My not-yet-wife and I had spent the morning bouncing around between the Islas de Rosario sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and all those other things that not-yet-married couples do in the Caribbean. At each stop we saw two men in a small canoe. The same two men, one with a rainbow umbrella attached to his hat to ward off the sun, the other hunched over the bottom of the canoe, tending to a live fire burning in the middle of it.
Turns out that every day these guys take the canoe out at the crack of dawn and spend the first few hours of the day diving down to the rocks to catch lobster by hand. By mid-day, with a pile of lobsters in the canoe and a fire burning in the middle, they're ready to make ceviche.
They start by splitting the lobsters in half lengthwise and gently grilling them over the fire, just until they're starting to pull away from the shell. From there they shred the meat, toss it into a cup, and add lime juice before handing it over for a couple bucks' worth of pesos.
I can't pretend to be able to do what they do—lobster diving and canoe-fire-building are not my areas of expertise—but I often make my own version of their ceviche using live Maine lobsters. I can't think of a better appetizer for a fancy al fresco summer supper.
The key to perfectly textured lobster ceviche is to make absolutely certain that you don't overcook the lobster. I plunge mine into boiling water for just a few moments (about a minute and a half for the tails, and three minutes for the claws) before dropping the pieces into an ice bath to halt cooking. Ideally, the lobster is cooked enough that it'll pull away easily from the shell, yet still be slightly translucent in the center. The final stage of cooking occurs in its lime juice marinade.
If you want your ceviche extra pretty, you should stick a couple of bamboo skewers through your lobster tails before boiling in order to keep them from curling up tight.
With the meat cooked, it's just a matter of dressing and serving. I like to add chopped shallots, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro to my lime juice marinade, along with a sprinkle of fancy sea salt and a drizzle of the best olive oil. All of these ingredients are optional, but I suggest you give 'em a shot.
And if you want to go extra fancy, you can serve your ceviche in your carefully cleaned out lobster shell. (Hint: it all tastes better when you eat with your fingers).
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.