Peruvian Ceviche…and Red Wine?


Who said it was white wine with fish?  Andy Rompel begs to differ…

Ceviche is the latest culinary fashion export from Peru, having been perfected over decades in Lima and successfully promoted by Gaston Acurio, who is perhaps the leading Ambassador of Peruvian Cuisine, well at least in the Spanish-speaking world.  I dare say that nowhere in the world do you find so many excellent and outstanding seafood restaurants as in Lima, Peru.  The amount of work that goes into preparing these dishes is amazing, and not surprisingly a bad restaurant would close shop pretty soon, as Peruvian patrons are spoiled with good food.

One of the many reasons for the freshest fish imaginable is the Humboldt Current bringing cold waters from way South off the coast of Antarctica up to the Peruvian shore line.  Once out of the water, the fresh fish is then cured in lime juice for a short while and served with raw red onions, fresh coriander and some mild red chilies.  Some of the specialties prepared that way are:

Salmon or Whitefish Carpaccio

Pulpo (octopus) in a purple (black) olive sauce

Tiradito of Tilapia, Red Snapper, Halibut, Flounder or Swordfish

Ceviche of Scallops, Shrimps, Calamari, Langoustines

Crabmeat between slices of mashed potato (Causa)

Add an abundant amount of light sauces at leisure, and the obligatory corn.
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The chefs at the “Perroquet” restaurant present their Ceviche counter for the Sunday lunch buffet at the Country Club Lima.

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Scallops in a green Salsa at “Matria” (Miraflores)

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Langostino Ceviche in Maracuya jus at “Matria” (Miraflores).

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A Causa, mashed yellow potato filled with crab meat at “Francesco’s”  (Miraflores).

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Classic Ceviche with corn in a light white salsa.  On the left Tuna Carpaccio with an olive oil dressing at “Francesco’s” (Miraflores).

When it comes to matching good food with fine wine, the action in South America is called maridaje (pairing or marriage).  Whereas marriage isn’t so straight forward at the best of times, when it comes to Ceviche it seems like a no-brainer – go for white wine with the raw fish!  Particularly when Ceviche is actually served at lunch time.  Having said that, one of the latest trends in Lima’s restaurants is to marry Ceviche with red wine.  In recent food and wine tastings the attempt was made to pair Peru’s finest cuisine with Argentine Malbec.  So it happened a few months ago at the highly rated La Mar seafood restaurant in Miraflores.  At least eight Malbecs of varying quality were matched with eight courses of tiny plates of some kind of seafood, some cold, others served warm.  Most Malbecs simply appeared too clumsy to go with the delicate flavours of the seafood, except for one, maybe, the Humberto Canale Estate Malbec 2009, which stood out amongst the crowd of mediocrity.

Another maridaje attempt was held at the very stylish and classy Lima Country Club in San Isidro, but this time with an array of Portuguese wine imports.  The cuisine was equally good, however, less courses and bigger portions.  The maridaje was slightly better compared to the Malbec evening, since the Portuguese wines weren’t half as plump.  There was the Barco Negro 2005 from the Douro, a blend of three grapes, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (the Portuguese version of Tempranillo) which came with a well prepared and elegantly decorated shell fish arrangement.  This pairing, while far from perfect, was good enough to demonstrate that the wine did not suffer on account of the lime, onion, chillies and coriander combination – wild indeed!

Nevertheless, to me it is an unhappy pairing, maybe because the quality of the chosen Malbecs didn’t always live up to what one may call the best seafood cuisine in the Americas.  If you can, go with Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc of the less acidic kind, a not too woody Chardonnay or a dry Rhine Riesling (Moselle Riesling just as acceptable).  “Matria” restaurant, also in Miraflores and not far from “La Mar” stuck with the traditional maridaje the other (Halloween) night.  The opening ceviches were accompanied by white, and when the meat course came they moved on to red.  Amongst the whites was a South African, the Sutherland Elgin Chardonnay by Thelema.