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Kim Sunée: Cool off with halibut ceviche, Cayman-style

  • Author: Kim Sunée
    | Alaska cooking
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 18, 2015

Halibut and salmon season are in full swing, and during these hotter summer days it's nice to trade out heavier foods for something light and fresh. I went through my notebook of recipe ideas that I keep when traveling and found Caribbean-spiced ceviche from this past spring when I was in Grand Cayman.

For many, the island is synonymous with questionable offshore banking and a scattering of luxury hotels. Admittedly, I too went with some of these notions. I quickly learned that if you dive a little deeper, there's so much more; the abundance of natural beauty is breathtaking, and Grand Cayman is also rich in seafood and flavors bursting of the sun.

During the island's annual Slow Food Day (camanabay.com/slowfood) at Camana Bay, hundreds gathered to taste their way through stalls rich with fare made by chefs both local and visiting, including New Orleans chef Susan Spicer.

I am always fascinated by how others prepare their local bounty. In the Caribbean, where all sorts of species swim, many restaurants make the best of the best, including the invasive lionfish (which tastes better cooked than raw), wahoo, mahi mahi and slippery satin snappers. Scotch eggs, jerk chicken and plantains, as well as conch fritters with hot pickled pepper and more, proved to be a tasty tour of the rich culinary tradition of the island.

One of the most memorable bites was served up by executive chef Daniel Taylor of Brasserie Cayman. A spicy ceviche -- raw fish "cured" or "cooked" in citrus juices -- of local satin snapper made with what Taylor calls a "chili pepper water" offered layers of garlic, cilantro and heat levels of varying degrees. A single tasting spoonful wasn't nearly enough. After a second (and third) sample, I asked Taylor about using other varieties of fish, especially Alaska seafood. Salmon and halibut would lend itself beautifully to his recipe, Taylor assured me, while emphasizing that the main thing to keep in mind when making ceviche is to use the absolute freshest fish available. Luckily, my friend's son, 8-year-old Chase, caught his first (plus five more) halibut recently and I pulled out Taylor's recipe to honor the first catch.

Taylor calls for the hotter Scotch bonnets as well as "seasoning peppers," basically a combination of both mild and hotter peppers, like bell pepper, Anaheim, jalapeño. Keep in mind that chili peppers can surprise from one to the next. If you're more timid, remove all the seeds and ribs where the burn resides. Taste the mixture once it's blended and if it's too hot, add in an avocado or half a cucumber.

Serve with a chilled rosé or a lightly effervescent Portuguese Vinho Verde.

Halibut ceviche, Cayman-style

Recipe inspired by chef Daniel Taylor of Brasserie Cayman, Grand Cayman

Chef Taylor dresses the fish about 20 minutes before serving so the acid from the lime juice doesn't "overcook" the fish. If you're using shrimp, marinate about 4 to 6 hours for the right texture. He also likes to add green mango, onions, cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil. When in season, I like to garnish with Alaskan baby turnips -- aka "snow apples" -- Alaskan sprouts and diced cucumber.

1 pound fresh, raw, skinless halibut fillet (or cod or salmon)

1 to 2 Scotch bonnet peppers, stems and seeds removed

10 chili peppers (combination of Anaheim, red or yellow bell pepper, jalapeño, etc.), stems, and seeds removed if desired

4 to 6 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon fine-grain salt, plus more for garnish

Juice of 6 limes, plus more for garnish

1. Remove and discard any pin bones from halibut fillet; cut into bite-size pieces; set aside to chill in refrigerator while making the pepper water.

2. Place Scotch bonnets, chilies, garlic, salt, and lime juice in a blender. Pulse a few times to combine. Pour in 1/3 cup water and purée until well blended. Taste and add more salt or lime juice as desired. If the mixture is thick, add up to another 1/3 cup water. If too spicy, add an avocado or cucumber and purée until blended. Strain mixture into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve. If desired, keep a tablespoon or so of the pulp to stir into the liquid; discard the rest or keep and use to make hot pepper pastes.

3. About 20 minutes before serving, spoon about 1 cup of the pepper water into the fish, stirring gently. Let chill in refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with some finishing salt, like Maldon flake or Alaska sea salt, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Garnish, if desired, with diced baby white turnips, radishes or cucumber. Serve with lime wedges and tortilla chips or crackers.

Kim Sunée ate and lived in Europe for 10 years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American and Asian American Poetry and Writing. She is currently based in Anchorage. She is the best-selling author of "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home." Her most recent cookbook is "A Mouthful of Stars." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com.

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