I was never good at art growing up. I can still remember the day in 5th grade when my teacher saw my painstaking rendition of a Garfield comic that I had drawn the night before, and turned to the class to say, “Hey look! It’s the Boogie Man!” I like to refer to that day as the day I stopped trying to draw–luckily I still had music, writing, and later cooking as alternative creative outlets. Maybe I always sucked at drawing because I tried too hard–I wanted the perfect picture from my mind to appear on the page, but it never did.
Today, I am much less rigid in the kitchen. Sure, I study techniques, and learn all I can about cuisines, but at the heart of it all is my love of science and experimentation. When I started really cooking for myself, I used to joke that there were two failed attempts behind every dish, but that was the key. I take food seriously, but I tone down my need for structure when I cook. Good thing — I can’t eat paper anyway.
I made this over the summer when I linked up with Dan, one of my friends from college who cares about food at least as much as I do. He’s taught me a lot–both from his extensive knowledge of culinary techniques, and his ability to weave a narrative out of a meal. We started cooking for friends during the school year, and ended up coming up with a clever balance of our styles. When I heard he was in town for a few days, I knew we had to keep the tradition going.
So about this ceviche…
The strawberries started off as a joke; we wanted to do something creative with the fish, but noting was really jumping out at us. He had strawberries on the counter, and we started wondering whether we could incorporate them into the dish– we were working with strawberry snapper, afterall. The only way it made sense was to keep the fish raw, and we paired the strawberries with fennel to tone down the sweetness, and add depth of flavor. It was just crazy enough to be delicious.
We only used the snapper “collar”–the meat just behind the gills– for this. This is one of the best morsels on most fish, and even better when it is treated as minimally as possible. You’ll have to buy the whole fish to access it, but it’s worth it! Of course, you don’t have to use the collar–as long as the fish is fresh, you can use the whole filet.
This is not a traditional ceviche, but the flavors speak for themselves.
2 lb Strawberry Grouper Collars*, skinned and filleted
1 Fennel Root, sliced thinly
2 Shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 lb Strawberries, sliced thinly
2 Limes, juiced and zested
1 Avocado, sliced thinly
1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
1 Sleeve of Crackers
1 Tbs Cumin
Salt & Pepper to taste
*Substitute your favorite firm, white fish for Strawberry Grouper if you’d like.
Remove your fish from the refrigerator, and allow it to rest on the counter while you prepare your other ingredients. Be sure that all skin, and bones have been removed.
Slice the base of the fennel, shallots, and strawberries as thinly as possible using a mandolin, or very sharp knife, then slice the green fronds off of the fennel stalks. Transfer to a large glass bowl.
Once the fish has come up to room temperature, place it on a separate cutting board, and slice into uniformly thin slices with a sharp knife. Combine the fish with the rest of the sliced ingredients.
Pour the vinegar, and lime juice into the bowl, then season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Stir gently, and be sure that everything is covered by the liquid–adjust the amounts of vinegar and lime juice as needed.
Remove the seed from the avocado, and slice the flesh as thinly as possible in the skin, and remove with a spoon. Stir gently to ensure all contents are distributed evenly.
Cover the bowl, and store in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes before serving.