A recent tweet from CC Chapman at SxSW about his hotel room having no amenities for preparing food (fridge or microwave) got me thinking: what's the best food you could prepare in such conditions, assuming you had access to a local grocery store but not much else, and you didn't want to buy a ton of stuff that you'd either have to ship home or abandon?
The answer: ceviche. Ceviche is a South American cold fish dish, "cooked" by using an acid to denature the proteins in a meat as opposed to using heat. It's light, very refreshing, tasty, healthy, and very cheap to make. I first learned about it at the ETC2010 conference from the Chilean embassy and fell in love with it immediately.
If you switch out some ingredients, it's also incredibly portable. For fun, to see if I could make it work, I contacted Heidi over at True Lemon and asked whether True Lemon's acidity matched that of a real lemon. The answer? Yes, so True Lemon is substituted in this recipe for portability. Most of the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and put in a zip-top bag.
Here's what you'll need:
5 packets of True Lemon
5 packets of True Lime
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Black pepper to taste
1 tbsp cilantro - home-dried from fresh is best
1 plastic bag
1 piece of fish, preferably a mild white fish like tilapia, haddock, or sea bass
5/8 cup of water
1 plastic knife
Everything except the fish and water can be put in the plastic bag and packed in your luggage. That said, you might occasionally get some questions from security, but it's okay to let them sniff the contents. The salt, pepper, and sugar you can probably source on site, along with a plastic knife.
When you get to your destination, find your local grocery store and hit the frozen fish section. Buy your fish frozen, because for this application, you want fish as germ-free as possible, and deeply frozen fish is less likely to have nasties than the fish counter. The citrus juice will kill off most nasties, but not as thoroughly as applying heat, so the fewer you start with, the better.
Thaw the fish by putting it in your hotel room sink with some warm water. Cut it up into little tiny pieces. Any knife will do - a little plastic one, a pair of scissors from the front desk (washed, of course), etc. Put the fish and water in the bag. If you're not sure how much 5/8 cup of water is, it's about a third of a coffee mug's worth. You don't have to be perfectly precise with this. It's also a full to the brim shot glass.
Throw everything in the plastic bag and toss around.
Let this sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. No in-room fridge? No problem. Get the ice bucket, put your zip-top bag in the bottom, and put some ice on top of it.
The dish is done when the fish has turned white as if cooked:
Put it in the serving vessel of your choice - perhaps that empty shot glass - and enjoy!
Now, obviously, you can substitute real ingredients for the portable ones. You can use the juice of freshly squeezed lemons and limes (5/8 cup total), use fresh cilantro, add in some onion or garlic, etc. but if you're in a hotel room, the last thing you want to try to do is cut citrus with a plastic fast food knife and attempt to do serious culinary work, hence the True Lemon. If you're at home with a full kitchen at your fingertips, you can modify this recipe to your heart's content. Perhaps another time I'll post up a full, at-home recipe.
Ceviche is easy to prepare, requires no heat, and is really tasty. Try it sometime.
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