August is a hard time to be in France. The French take their annual vacations (congés annuels) towards the end of July and during the month of August. As a result, a lot of businesses shut down for weeks or for the whole month. My favorite produce market is currently on congés until August 30th. There is a law in France that the bakeries have to sync their congés with each other, so one bakery remains open in an area when the others are closed.
I live in the Alps, 4 hours away from the Mediterranean. Seafood options here are rather limited. There are two seafood markets in town; one is on a medieval street that has been used for food shops since the medieval ages, in fact the space that seafood market is in has always been a seafood market since the 15th century. They’re only open Tuesdays through Saturdays, and only in the mornings at the moment. Everything they have is fresh, but their selection is small and they’re expensive, so I don’t shop there often.
The seafood market I like best is actually a stand in the open-air Friday and Saturday market, so they’re only here twice a week from 8 AM to noon. They have a really wide selection of seafood from the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and the Atlantic coast of Northwestern Africa. Everything is super-fresh, and they offer wonderful homemade seafood terrines, marinated anchovies, seafood salads, stuffed squid, pre-baked scallops, seafood spreads, and other delicacies. They also display large vats of homemade paella, seafood stews, and tuna balls cooked in tomato sauce with capers and white beans. I love this market, and I look forward to visiting them once a week on Saturday mornings. They’re family-owned, always remember me, and are extremely patient with my poor French pronunciation. They give great recommendations when I ask “Comment puis-je cuisiner?” (How do I cook?)
They were on congés from July 21 to August 17. Each Saturday for the past few weeks when I did my market shopping, I would look forlornly at their empty, closed stall:
Thursday I started to get excited as I knew the seafood market would be coming back on Saturday, and started thinking about what delicious things I’d like to make this weekend. It’s been unbearably hot here, this weekend has been 96 -98˚F (35-36˚C) so after some pondering, I decided I wanted to make ceviche. I’ve never made it before, and it seemed easy enough, and I could find all the ingredients here with one substitution.
Most recipes I read had suggested red snapper, but that “any firm white-fleshed fish will do.” Red snapper isn’t native to European waters; it’s found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the eastern Atlantic coast of the USA. It isn’t something you find here easily, in fact, I couldn’t find a proper French translation for it. Didn’t find it on this list. I decided on halibut (flétan), and also bought tomatoes, avocado, lemon, lime, red onion, piment fort (the only available fresh chili pepper here apart from Scotch bonnets at the African market, and that’s way too high on the Scoville scale for me) and cilantro.
This was really easy to make and came out well. I didn’t really follow one recipe – I read several different recipes and kind of improvised, taking inspiration from different influences. Here’s how I did it.
I cut the halibut in quarter-inch cubes and put them in a bowl with one small red onion, finely diced and 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, and added the juice of two lemons and two limes to this. This went in the refrigerator for 4 hours. That’s how long it took until the fish was no longer translucent.
I drained the fish and onions in a colander, then added to the bowl a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, 1 fresh tomato chopped, 1/2 of a long piment fort finely diced (always wear gloves when handling chiles, kids!), about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar, and about a tablespoon of olive oil. I put the drained fish and onions back in the bowl, and added one diced avocado, and gently mixed it up.
The result: FLAVOR COUNTRY. Amazing. Wonderful tartness, spiciness, and freshness. Great textures. I’m all full of ideas right now. I want to make something with mango next time. I want to experiment with scallop ceviche with thinly sliced fennel (thanks for the inspiration, Derek!) I imagine grapefruit and shrimp would be a great combination. Ooooh, I want to make langostino ceviche! Aaaah! The possibilities!