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Does oil in marinade prevent seviche from "cooking"?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Preamble: I'm copyediting a cookbook featuring lots of poke and raw fish. The celebrity chef doesn't like to write, so the publisher hired a writer for the recipe headers. Writer doesn't seem to know much about food.

Header writer asserts that when a chef puts oil in the citrus juice marinade used to make seviche, the oil prevents the juice from completely "cooking" the fish.

This seems like nonsense to me. I've seen many recipes for seviche marinades that include oil. When I lived in Tonga and ate lots of ika 'ota (Tongan seviche), the marinade was made with coconut milk, which is very fatty. That didn't keep the fish from "cooking." I believe that you only get incomplete protein coagulation when the marination time is short. That's what McGee says (On Food and Cooking).

However, before I correct the blurb writer, I'd like to be sure that I'm right. Comments?
post #2 of 18
Well, number 1, the fish isn't completely cooked, only the outside gets "cooked"

And as far as the oil goes, I'm assuming it would enter with the acid and reduce the amount of the fish that is cooked, and/or increase the amount of time you need to marinade the fish for.

Why don't you drizzle the oil on at the end instead?
post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
Hmm. The seviche I've eaten has been completely coagulated. That is, all white rather than pink in the center.

As for altering the recipe: I'm just the editor. I can't change the chef's recipes. I can only question them (or expand on them -- amplifying directions that are unhelpfully curt). I've had to question so dang much and I'm so worried that the chef is going to be angry at being questioned, that I'm feeling cautious.
post #4 of 18
You're in a delicate position to begin with -- more complicated by the presence of a third person. Can't be easy.

More to the point, my impression is that oils like olive oil do inhibit the "cooking by acid" effect of citrus. You certainly won't get the same "cooked" effect with a cup of Newman's Own "Italian" salad dressing as you would with 1/2 cup of lemon/lime juice.

Of course, in the example, the lesser amount of citrus is more acidic than the dressing -- so the question of concentration is raised. I can't tell you for sure if the presence of lipids generally inhibits the acid/protein "coagulation" effect, of if there's something about specific sources of fats and acids... which, after all, aren't identical.

Maybe you could suggest the writer be more careful about limiting himself to the chef's directions rather than making sweeping and misleading statements about food chemistry -- unless there's considerably more food chemistry forthcoming.

Something less than 2 cents,
post #5 of 18
Or you can do an experiment, put oil in one, and no oil in another, take the fish out in 1 hour and cut the piece in half, see which one is cooked more, or if they are the same.
post #6 of 18
Okay. My experience with Seviche is one that first off...... the oil (specifically Extra Virgin Olive) is there as a vessel to carry some flavors as well as impart it's own flavor and yes....Secondly, it acts as sort of a means to slow and reduce (but not eliminate) the cure process and keeps the fish from becoming like vulcanized pieces of rubber.

Oil in my Seviche was only added after the seafoods' had ample time in the marinade to cure, pickle or cook. (Whatever your stand point may be).

IMHPO.......There is also not a "half-life" to seviche. The shelf life is per shift, at best, after the process has been completed. It's also my professional opinion that it should be served and consumed with-in hours of being prepared and not allowed to sit in waiting days on end. All of the flavors deteriorate or overlap each other and again, the seafood becomes.......... Blech!
post #7 of 18
In my experience, whenever we made seviche, the fish was pickled separately and everything else was assembled at the last minute. Adding oil to the pickling acid would be plain poor technique.
post #8 of 18
We want to be careful about getting too dogmatic here. For one thing we're drfting from the topic which is as much editorial as culinary. For another, there are a lot of authentic/regional ways to make ceviches. And actually, a lot of them are made with a little bit of oil -- the oil being added at the very beginning. Typical proportions are in the neighborhood of a couple of tbs of oil per cup of citrus.

post #9 of 18
If I saw a method like that I'd question it and go ahead and do it my way. What does that 2 Tbsp of oil do anyway?
post #10 of 18
Excellent question. A little mouthfeel maybe. If it were a really fruity olive oil, maybe some taste, too. Since most of the recipes I looked at with oil were new world, Spanish language -- my guess is that the oil isn't all that fruity. Mexican and South American olive oils tend to run on the bland side.

I'll say also that many of the recipes cautioned against using too much. That's not something you see too much.

post #11 of 18
My comment was stricktly related to my experience. Not meant to sway the direction of the post and it only pertains to the characteristics of the dish that I found to be true when I served it from my kitchens. No at all meant to be the........"gospel of Seveche according to.............":rolleyes:
post #12 of 18
I would tend to believe that oil (if too much) or added first would coat the fish flesh and protect it from the acid hence prevent or lessen coagulation at that spot. Since the citrus juice and fish proteins are water soluble, applying oil to the flesh surface would prevent dissolved acids (water proofing) from gaining access to the flesh. Obviously the amount of oil is to be considered and the way it is added: like added first rather then later (after the coagulation) if emulsified:little droplets of oil in a mostly acid matrix would probably not prevent coagulation (that much). acidity level also is to be considered. Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
I eat science everyday, do you?
post #13 of 18
Right so I'd add the oil to the "dressing" part later as I put it together.
post #14 of 18
The recipes I've been reading, mostly from Chile, Peru and Mexico, called for adding the oil at the same time. However, the amount of oil was very limited relative to the amount of citrus. I can't see how adding the oil later, as you suggest, could be a bad thing.

Let me be clear, I'm not arguing that ceviches with oil is more popular than ceviches without. Just that the mainstream itself is wide enough to accomodate a lot of variety.

As it happens, I had my favorite ceviche de camaron cruda for breakfast today at a Mexican buffet. There wasn't oil or fat of any kind in the ceviche (except for the shrimp itself), at least not until adding the guacamole and crema agria after I'd buried the tostada under a huge mound of ceviche. Muy ricos.

When I think of olive oil and raw fish, it's very thin, wide slices of raw fish, dressed with oil and salt at the time of service. That is, something like carpaccio and without any marination at all.

post #15 of 18
Exactly my point as well.
post #16 of 18
Right, and I'm not saying that oil is a good or bad thing with ceviche. I'm saying that it's pointless to add oil in the marinade. In fact I can't see it as anything but resulting in fish infused oil.

We really should form a club. It's no fun arguing with you. We agree most of the time. :lol:
post #17 of 18
I never look at it as arguing Kuan. I always look at it as a "spirited Discussion" or tenaciously explaining a differing viewpoint.
Just let me know when and where we meet plus, I vote we have our first meeting at The Trellis in Williamsburg! But about any dues.......:look: :D;)

Now for something on the topic....

I was looking back through some of my notes and old hand written recipes and .....(I was actually working on something for two other members here and I also made notes because I believed that wouldn't remember every nuance of every recipe or dish I ever made in a discussion 20 or so years later:D I found some things on the ceviche. Kuans comment on the oil just now was dead on. If you add it during the marinating process, you end up more with fish infused oil more than anything else.

The Extra Virgin olive was used as a dressing that I started out adding just before it was portioned for service and found that the flavor disappeared. It also made the fish (the more delicate cuts like snapper and the bay scallops) turn into the pieces of vulcanized rubber that I mentioned before, sort of curing the seafood. I concluded that the oil was a curing process and what I needed was pickling. I also noted that to add it just before service was better for the flavor but then decided that we would do it table side and give the guest the option.

The original recipe I used stated that the seafood should be cut into equal sizes and marinated together for no more than 12 hours. . Later I noted that I would try to marinate each seafood separately and for whatever time was needed to ensure a proper pickle. This method actually yielded a better tasting dish since each flavor of seafood was represented and things didn't run together. Then as Kuan partially described earlier the dish was assembled and dressed with the strained version of the marinade. I also decided to do garnish it with the fresh herbs and citrus slices that were used in the marinade before it was sent to the guest.

For what it's worth, I haven't served this dish since the late 80's or very early 90's. It was very difficult because of the shelf life and very regional meaning that it did better when I was on the coast but really tanked when I tried it more inland regions like Chicago or even Atlanta.

I understand that the original poster was looking for an understanding of the dish and it's addition of oil. I also understand that this relates to a cook book that was to be mainly used by the "at-home cook". Yet in the same breath, there have been many times that, as a Professional, I looked for inspiration in a cook book or magazine. Just the "nature of the industry" in my mind so I added the extra comments in this post.

Just be sure that, as a courtesy to whomever and wherever the dish is served, the dish is treated like Sushi and don't serve it more than a day after preparation.:D
post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys. Armed with all of this info, I've looked at the recipe in question again and decided that it isn't really a seviche. The chef CALLS it a seviche, but he's inverted the method. He pickles the cubed fish in oil and salt for a few hours and then adds a dressing heavy in lime juice at the last minute.

So I'm going to have to rewrite the header and perhaps ask for a title change. Something like Seviche Topsy-Turvy.

I hope that the dish tastes good. It's very strange to be working on a cookbook and to have never eaten most of the dishes. I can't afford the chef's restaurant. I exercise my culinary imagination.
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