There’s no secret to aguachile. The name, chile water, translated describes the dish just about perfectly. It is a study in simplicity … pulverized chiles in liquid, a few cut up vegetables … enough lime to pucker your lips and pickle some shrimp. Its creation is generally credited to the coastal northwest of Mexico, sometimes the state of Sinaloa but also sometimes Na-ya-rit. Nayarit has a significant share of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, including the islands of Marías and Marietas … and the beaches of San Blas. (Blahs)
Aguachilies are often flavored with the chilies known as chiltepins. They are green when fresh, but red when dry — and they give it enough punch to leave your lips buzzin’ … cousin.
The credit given to many of the dishes featuring raw, lightly marinated or fully pickled fish in the regions from Mexico to South America are almost inarguably dominated by Peru. And it is for good reason. As we have noted before the interplaying cultural fusion between the Indian, Japanese and Chinese people of modern Peru allow for a stimulating and broad number of dishes that comprise the matrix between ceviches, tiraditos and aguachile. As we are more mobile than our forbears the probability of having any of these techniques appear in places not from which they were born is nearly inevitable.
I’ve been asked what is the difference between ceviches and aguachile.
The most common type of aguachile is with shrimp but in some places conch prevails. Then the attendant cucumbers, tomato, onion, and lime juice are prepared and kept handy. But first the chosen chilies are blended with the agua … water. Then you assemble with the prepped vegetables and chill it all. I like to blanch my shrimp and/or conch first to make for a texture most prefer.
Another difference with ceviche versus aguachile is the time it marinates. With ceviche, the seafood marinates in the lime juice for at least 15-20 minutes. This is a long way from the overnight marinating session we knew 20 years ago. You will find that aguachiles are tossed in the lime and pretty much served right away. Similar to the short marination of tiraditos. Tiraditos and sushi are kindred except that sushi is not marinated but the thinly cut method of slicing the fish are alike.
One of my favorite food writers in the land was Jonathan Gold of Los Angeles where he wrote for the LA Times. He was a well-deserved James Beard winning journalist in a time when journalism itself needs more support than ever. Jonathan scoured the vast communities of that labyrinthine city to find and shine a light on the best food to be had out there. We had a restaurant on Sunset Strip and if I could go back in time I would and I’d knock on his door and plead with him to take me along on his forays into the myriad L.A. food options. He was fearless about moving well past the beaten paths and was always uncovering gems. Not long before his too early death he wrote about a place in a nondescript strip mall… he was expert at things like this … and finding an aguachile he fell in love with. He neatly folded that reportage in with the concept of the “Ugly Delicious” thinking of the very provocative chef David Chang on his Netflix series. But that’s another show.
I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s…. My Word on Food