Ahead of Asia de Cuba opening in Dubai, Liz Totton heads to its sister venue in Abu Dhabi
Time Out Dubai staff
Latin American food is having something of a ‘moment’ across the UAE. With this growing hunger for all things Latin comes an equal interest in Peru’s best-known dish, ceviche, which you’ll now see popping on menus across the emirates. For those unfamiliar, ceviche, reduced to its most basic parts, is raw fish marinated in citrus and spices – the acid in the juice denatures the proteins in the fish in the same way that cooking does. The flesh becomes opaque, the texture firmer and drier, and the flavours remain fresh. It’s the perfect zingy dish for a hot summer’s day. Classic ceviche preparation always consists of fish, salt, red onions and ají – Peru’s unique chilli pepper – all drenched in lime juice. ‘The marinade is called leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, and the simplicity of this elixir makes ceviche hard to mess up,’ explains Phillip Harbin, chef de cuisine at Asia de Cuba, Abu Dhabi. The renowned restaurant chain from New York, which serves legendary Chino-Latino cuisine, is soon to offer a ceviche masterclass for those inclined to make it themselves. We get a sneak peek of the session and discover it to be interactive, relaxed and filled with all the secrets to making ceviche at home with ease.
We’re shown into the kitchen where Harbin and his sous chefs take us step-by-step through the art of making their signature starter ceviche de pescado. ‘What stops people from making ceviche at home is that they are often intimidated by selecting and handling the fresh fish, but it couldn’t be easier,’ says Harbin. ‘You can use any fish you like; it just has to be fresh.’
He shows the class how to fillet and de-scale the fish, then takes us to our stations where colourful bowls of the freshest ingredients are set out before us. Chef Harbin reminds us that just as our choice of fish can be anything, our other ingredients can also be varied. For example, you can use any citrus you like from lime to lemon to pineapple – they all work. It just depends on your taste. Asia de Cuba also makes vegetable ceviches to accommodate vegetarians using mushrooms, beetroot, avocado and asparagus, but it can be anything you have on hand.
Harbin then breaks down all the steps to make a fresh and yummy ceviche.
1. Once the fish (red snapper in this case) is prepared, it is then sliced into uniformly sized pieces – which can be cubes or slices, as long as they are the same size. ‘This is of utmost importance,’ explains chef Harbin. It ensures the fish cooks evenly.’ We are issued gloves and turn to the other ingredients, slicing jalapeno peppers, red and spicy Fresno peppers, red onion, coriander and ginger into a uniform dice.
2. We pour several tablespoons of lime with a pinch of flaked salt into a mixing bowl and swirl it together. Chef Harbin encourages us to taste test it for saltiness. ‘If it’s too briny, just add more lime juice until you achieve balance – you’ll know it when you taste it,’ Harbin explains. We then put the pepper and onion mixture into the salt-citrus bath along with the fish and watch as the citric acid ‘cooks’ the chopped fish without heat. We watch as the flesh turns from translucent pink to opaque white. Chef Harbin instructs us to leave the fish in the bath according to our taste. ‘Ten to 30 minutes will give you a medium-rare fish. Do not let your fish sit longer than 30 minutes, because that will overcook it,’ he says.
3. He then provides each of us with a serving platter and asks us to strain the fish and stagger it elegantly along the length of plate, garnishing it with drops of the leche de tigre, coriander, flower petals and strips of julienned red pepper, accompanied by salted plantain chips (tostones).
We each proudly display our handiwork, which we’re eager to sample. The fish is lovely, fresh and light, and it’s the perfect starter to dazzle guests with. It’s also quick and easy to prepare. Chef Harbin advises making and serving your ceviche immediately so you don’t run the risk of overcooking the fish. As long as your fish or shellfish is fresh and your marinade tasty, there’s little that can ruin a homemade ceviche. Give it a try. The ceviche-making classes are expected to begin this autumn at Asia de Cuba Abu Dhabi, Nation Riviera Beach Club, St. Regis Abu Dhabi, www.asiadecuba.com (02 699 3333).
How to slice your fish
First, find a sharp knife suitable for slicing through your fresh fish. Slicing at an angle ensures you’ll avoid chewy sinew and get tender bites every time.
1. Trim each fillet into long, straight pieces between 4-5cm long.
2. Wet your knife with cold water before each cut – this helps prevent the flesh from shredding.
3. Hold your knife at a 45-degree angle and slice 0.5cm thick pieces, wiping the blade clean after each cut.
Three ceviches to try in Dubai
Gaucho’s Ecuadorian ceviche While the Peruvians are largely credited with inventing ceviche, Ecuador apparently lays its own claim to the dish. Among other recipes available at Gaucho, you can sample an Ecuadorian-style ceviche, which uses pre-cooked shrimp. Dhs55. DIFC (04 422 7898).
Nobu’s mixed tomato ceviche The original king of Asian-Latin fusion is Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. At his Dubai restaurant you can have a vegetarian-friendly ceviche experience with this mixed tomato recipe, which also honours Peru’s role as the birthplace of the humble tomato. Dhs45. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0760).
Zengo’s kanpachi ceviche Another Asian-Latin fusion venue, Zengo serves a number of creative ceviche concoctions including this kanpachi (or amberjack) recipe, which adds a few unexpected fruits into the mix, namely micro tomatoes and native South American fruit tamarillo (also known as a tree tomato). Dhs95. Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina (04 316 5550).
Follow your nose
Chef Phillip Harbin offers some simple tips for purchasing the freshest fish
Go to a trusted source If you can’t catch it yourself, the next best thing is get it from a dedicated fishmonger. Look for shops that are clean, busy, and scrupulous about their fish. The fish should be kept on top of and under crushed ice, or in refrigerated display cases on top of ice.
Follow your nose Fresh fish should not smell fishy. It should smell faintly briny. The same rule applies for shrimp, scallops, squid, and other shellfish. If your fishmonger won’t let you smell the produce, find a new fishmonger.
Look for firm flesh Fresh fish flesh should have a clean, slightly translucent appearance that doesn’t give when you push it.
Look a fish in its eye Fresh fish should have bright, clear, moist-looking eyes. If it has a cloudy film over its eyes, avoid it.