One of the trendiest foods in the country's coastal cities—certainly here in Los Angeles—is poke, the Hawaiian raw-fish salad that's often seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil and tossed with seaweed and sweet onions. While it's normal and healthy to be skeptical of the endless food fads that come and go (anyone remember pizzacones?), this is one craze I'm hoping will prove as durable as sushi.
To me, the popularity of poke (and sushi, for that matter) shows that there's a real niche to be filled by raw or cold seafood dishes—they're light and refreshing on hot summer days, yet contain enough protein to make a meal, and they're full of possibilities for customization. Other raw preparations, like Peruvian ceviche and Mexican aguachile, can satisfy similar cravings for a cooling starter or main dish. If you're leery of raw fish, or doubtful that the products available to you are sashimi-grade (an important concern), go for a cooked and chilled seafood option instead—like a New England–style lobster roll, made with chunks of firm chilled lobster meat tucked into a buttery toasted bun; or shrimp cocktail (we've got recipes for American, Mexican, and Colombian versions). However your taste leans, this collection of cold seafood recipes should supply all the motivation you need to get cooking—or chilling, at least—immediately.
Classic Peruvian-Style Fish Ceviche
Ceviche, though usually considered a raw dish, really walks the line between cooked and uncooked—it's made by marinating raw seafood in an acid of some sort, which denatures its proteins and gives it the texture and appearance of cooked fish. This recipe is for ceviche at its most elemental—just the freshest raw fish you can find (sea bass, grouper, and striped bass all work well), dressed with red onion, citrus juice, jalapeño, and cilantro. For a truly traditional ceviche in the Peruvian style, use sour orange juice if you can find it, but lime or lemon is perfectly fine, too.
Classic Shrimp Aguachile With Lime, Cucumber, and Red Onion
Like ceviche, Mexican aguachile is based on slices or chunks of raw fish tossed with an acidic component. Unlike ceviche, in which the fish is allowed to marinate for a short time so that it "cooks" in the acid, aguachile is served immediately, while the seafood is still completely raw. For this classic shrimp version, we combine raw shrimp with cool, crisp cucumber, chilies, onion, and tangy lime juice. When shopping, let your fishmonger know you'll be eating the shrimp raw to make sure that what you're getting is impeccably fresh.
Scallop Aguachile With Jalapeño, Cucumber, and Avocado
Cilantro adds fresh, vegetal flavor to the marinade for sweet raw scallops in this aguachile variation. Using an immersion blender to purée the diced cucumber and jalapeños and chop the cilantro is a significant time-saver and works almost as well as using a mortar and pestle. Complete the dish by serving the aguachile with tostadas and sliced avocado—and cold beer, naturally.
Arctic Char Aguachile With Habanero, Jicama, and Lime
In this fairly untraditional aguachile, we replace the cucumber with crunchy jicama and the jalapeño with the intensified heat of habaneros. Salmon is a fine substitute for harder-to-find sashimi-grade Arctic char. Take care when chopping the habaneros; wear gloves or, at the very least, wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
Gravlax With Caraway, Coriander, and Mustard-Dill Sauce
High-quality smoked salmon that practically melts on your tongue feels like a luxury, and it often has a price tag to match. For a much less expensive option that's just as rich and satisfying, try making your own gravlax—Scandinavian cured salmon—at home, for the cost of a good piece of fish and a few days' waiting. Here, we cure a sashimi-quality salmon fillet in a mixture of salt, sugar, caraway, coriander, and fresh dill. Once it's sliced and served, we arrange it on dark, nutty pumpernickel bread and drizzle it with a mustard- and dill-infused sauce.
Tuna Poke (Hawaiian Raw-Tuna Salad)
If the poke phenomenon hasn't caught on where you live, not to worry—the best iteration of this raw-seafood dish might just be what you make yourself at home. The only hard part is getting the quality of fish you need. This recipe calls for fresh ahi (yellowfin tuna), one of the most common fishes used for poke; its leanness is well complemented by a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and honey, and simple mix-ins like chopped sweet onions, scallions, and hijiki and wakame seaweeds. Serve the finished dish just as it is or on top of steamed rice.
Salmon Poke With Macadamia Nuts and Fried Shallots
While not a traditional Hawaiian poke base, salmon is a delicious option, and finding good salmon may be easier where you live than finding fresh tuna. The fish's robust texture and high fat content mean that it can stand up to stronger accompaniments, like crunchy macadamias, crispy fried shallots, and a spicy chili-garlic sauce.
Hamachi Poke With Cucumber and Avocado
The buttery richness of hamachi (yellowtail) requires contrasting textures and flavors for balance. In this recipe, we use mild, crunchy cucumber, hot Thai bird chilies, and lemon zest—lemon juice would set the fish on the path toward "cooking," while zest adds similar brightness but preserves the raw hamachi's texture.
Octopus Poke With Kimchi
You'll be hard-pressed to find good raw octopus on the mainland, so we recommend cooking it for this poke preparation. Here, it's boiled and thinly sliced, which helps keep it tender, not tough. Because octopus can stand up to powerful flavors, we combine it with kimchi and kochukaru (Korean chili flakes), alongside the more typical poke mix-ins of sweet onion and scallions.
Plump and Tender Shrimp Cocktail
My feelings about shrimp cocktail have historically been mixed. Growing up, I saw it most often in supermarket party trays, and, while I loved the spicy horseradish sauce, I wasn't so hot on the sad rings of shrimp—almost always rubbery, slimy, or off-tasting. The cure for shrimp-cocktail heartbreak is this recipe, which keeps the sauce while improving the shellfish. To do it, we poach the shrimp in a court bouillon flavored with herbs, white wine, and aromatics, keeping the water to 170°F or lower, then chill them thoroughly. Adding the shrimp shells to the poaching liquid means that none of the shrimp flavor goes to waste.
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Mexican shrimp cocktail is generally made by tossing poached shrimp in a flavorful sauce of citrus juice, ketchup, cilantro, and onion. Thanks to all those strong ingredients in the sauce, you can safely skip the court bouillon from our American-style shrimp cocktail and just use water spiked with lime juice for the poaching step. As for the sauce, the high volume of ketchup leaves it too sugary for our taste; to tame the sweetness, we replace some of that ketchup with tomato purée.
Colombian-Style Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail
For a Colombian-style version of shrimp cocktail, start with the same poached shrimp from above and toss it in a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise, a dressing that's reminiscent of Thousand Island. Feel free to adjust the ketchup–mayo ratio to your liking. Additional flavor comes from lime juice, minced onion, hot sauce, and—for a tasty but nontraditional touch—some high-quality olive oil.
Another Colombian seafood preparation, this simple, elegant ceviche requires little more than shredded par-cooked lobster meat and lime juice. We add a little character to the mix by incorporating shallots, jalapeños, and cilantro, too. The key is to not overcook the lobster, but boil it very quickly before shocking it in ice water—the lime juice in the marinade will give it the rest of the "cooking" it needs.
Creamy Shrimp Dip With Shallots, Dill, and Lemon
This is the perfect recipe for when you need a party-friendly dip that's just a bit fancy, but still approachable. It starts with firm, tender shrimp, cooked with our usual poaching technique, then adds a host of flavorful ingredients—lemon-marinated shallot, celery, fresh herbs, a kick from horseradish, and aromatic ground coriander. It's all mixed into a base of equal parts mayo and sour cream for a creamy finish.
Salmon Rillettes With Chives and Shallots
Want to really go all out for your guests? Try salmon rillettes, a French spread whose ease belies its chichi name. Instead of poached shrimp, this recipe uses poached salmon—the fattiest you can find, to ensure a creamy texture—seasoned with aromatics and herbs and bound with mayonnaise. A little cayenne, shallots, and chives pump up the flavor. It's particularly delicious spread onto baguette toasts or crackers at a summer picnic, accompanied by a good bottle of wine.
Insalata di Mare (Italian Seafood Salad)
Like Peruvian ceviche, Italian seafood salad is made by tossing seafood with citrus juice and herbs. Unlike with ceviche, the seafood in this dish is cooked, with the exception (in our recipe, at least) of the scallops, which are marinated in lemon juice, ceviche-style. We combine those scallops with tender cooked shrimp, squid, and mussels, then dress it all with a light, simple mix of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, coriander, garlic, parsley, and cayenne, plus sliced fennel and celery. This salad will benefit from a night in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld.
Wicked Good Lobster Rolls
The best lobster roll is a simple one—filled with sweet lobster meat and diced celery, coated in just the barest layer of mayo. What really sets this one apart is how we cook the lobster: Boiling or steaming is traditional, but we find that the deepest lobster flavor comes through roasting. Although the lobster salad is itself chilled, it's not a true lobster roll unless it's served on a warm top-split bun toasted in butter.
Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen) With Shrimp, Ham, and Vegetables
When it gets too hot for a bowl of warm ramen, hiyashi chuka steps in. It's a cold ramen preparation of noodles topped with meats and vegetables, tossed in a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sugar, and grated ginger. You can top it with whatever you like—here, we use corn, sliced tomato, cooked ham, imitation crab, and plump poached shrimp.