Ceviche – courtesy of North Uist brown trout

I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I last wrote a post.  As anticipated, the return home a couple of weeks ago means we have had to hit the ground running – too much to do, so little time, plus fabulous, though freezing weather.  This, combined with the clocks changing at the weekend means we have almost switched to our outdoor feral lifestyle that longer days bring. Oh, and the ensuing meatfest – continued delivery of greylag geese, requiring plucking and preparation (I have also tried some curing, we will see if it works…). We also took delivery of half an old spot pig from our neighbour, butchery of which commenced this evening. More on that subject another time, soon.

I therefore must apologise, fellow bloggers, for my reduced interactions – I haven’t had as much time to read and comment on your lovely blogs as I would like recently. Also to those vegetarian readers for the meatfest.  There are some vegetarian posts in my log jam of drafts, please bear with me!

Springtime?

I’m not going to go on about the weather, in fact it is really beautifully clear and crisp here and has been for the last two weeks.  It certainly looks like spring more than it feels like it, the vegetation is slow to grow and the lapwings look a bit perplexed about the lack of cover in their favoured nesting areas behind the house.

The arrival of spring was qualified last week by the birth of the first lambs on the croft behind our house.  I had a walk up and watched them gambolling around the temple a few nights ago.  The trio are two twins and a single who were engrossed in a competition of head-butting and leaping off rocks and bucking wildly before I interrupted. The field will soon be full as new born lambs are let out of the barn with their mothers and the cacophony of displaying waders and shrill bleating will reach a crescendo by Mid-April.

lambs

lambs 2

Fishing at last

The brown trout fly fishing season has now started.  We went out last Saturday in conditions that were the most inhospitable I have ever fished in, so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers and hence the line, winds 35 to 40 mph).  Strong winds don’t usually deter us – or the fish, but the biting cold was insufferable and after an hour, we gave up the pointless exercise and went home.

The weather remained pretty static over this week, and it didn’t require a soothsayer to foresee another fishless outing.  With too much to do in the garden, I opted out and left The Man Named Sous to experience the challenging Loch Hosta unaccompanied.  I have fished this bowl-like machair loch 5 or 6 times and despite it’s reputation for good fishing, I have always blanked.

I know, I should take my role as the current Chair of North Uist Angling Club more seriously.  I’m such a lightweight.  At this stage, I think it would be pertinent to point out that I have not been selected as Chair in a bun fight between those with the best angling prowess across the Isles.  No, I happened to be one of the very few present in the room at the time of the AGM who did not already have a committee role and did not raise sufficient objection not to be awarded the accolade.  In fairness, it at least saves the same 3 or 4 people from having to take on the role for a year. In fact, it is our very efficient secretary who keeps the club running smoothly, the only unique role for the Chair being a short speech at the annual dinner at the end of April.

Progressive gardening

I am glad that I stayed in the garden and had a very productive day.  First I checked my seedlings. Thanks to the very stable environment of my new heated propagator, half of my 8 chilli varieties have germinated.  I planted tomatoes, a plethora of herbs and organised my rotation for the raised beds.

Then, with some trepidation, I decided to start excavating the inside of the old inn, the ruined blackhouse in the corner of our garden where I have resolved to grow potatoes in this year, this covered in a previous potato-based post.

A couple of years ago, we covered over the inside of the ruin with weed suppressing fabric and stored wood and other materials on top of it. After a struggle to drag off the heavily vegetated fabric, I began digging and to my delight found no mat of weed roots and an ideal soil texture almost free of stones. Almost. The next day I did have to get help from The Man Named Sous to remove a rock pile from the centre, as a well as a huge stone that had fallen off the building and into the centre.

It took 2 of us about an hour to dig it out and roll it onto the surrounding walls as it must have weighed at least 100kg. As ever, there is always the expectation that you may find some buried treasure.  Well, I did, but it amounted to nothing more than the remains of a long dead sheep and a couple of neat ink bottles. The dogs thought it was an awesome way to spend a Saturday – digging holes, spraying me with soil and eating roots.  What more could a dog want?

Hector posing in the new potato patch.  Gardening rocks! Literally.

Hector posing in the new potato patch. Gardening rocks! Literally.

Brown trout ceviche

trout

I was delighted that The Man Named Sous did bring home a fish, a 1lb 3 oz brown trout, despite the less than perfect fishing conditions – glare and cold. Ceviche is one of our favourite trout dishes and a really great way to enjoy exceptionally fresh wild fish.

Ceviche is invariably the first dish I make at the start of the new season which also signifies the start of longer and (hopefully) warmer days, a dish I associate with summer, barbecues and eating al fresco (usually while wearing a fleece in North Uist). Sadly, when I visited Ecuador, I was still vegetarian so I have not yet had the opportunity to experience the dish other than that of my own concoction.

I have tried a few ceviche recipes and I tend to ring the changes depending on the amount of each citrus fruit I have at the time, these essentially ‘cook’ the fish.  A reliable recipe for anyone making ceviche for the first time is the River Cottage Sea Fishing Handbook which I have used here.

Filleting fish

Filleting fish does take a bit of practice, the secret is a very good quality and exceptionally sharp and slightly flexible filleting knife.  I use Chroma Type 301 Japanese steel knives which I find very balanced and more comfortable to use than Global, for example. The Chroma filleting knife is very long, flexible, and sharp enough to shave with.  I know this because this is how The Man named Sous, a knife sharpening expert, tests the sharpness of blades (on his arm, I should add, he has a beard!).

These knives are very difficult to sharpen as this must be done on a whetstone, with the correct bevel being applied to each edge of the blade, which varies according to if you are right or left-handed – so I am told. The knife makes filleting very easy.  There is no need to scale the fish for this dish as the skin is not used, although you will need to remove the pin bones.

trout fillet

For ceviche, my preference is for delicately thin slices of the translucent flesh.  Provided the ceviche is eaten relatively quickly, they will not go mushy. These are removed along the length of the fillet, each being thin enough to see the blade of the knife through.

trout fillet 2

trout fillet 3

Ingredients

500g fish fillets – brown trout in this case

juice of 3 limes

juice of 2 lemons

juice of 1 orange

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 tsp caster sugar

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

2 celery stalks, finely sliced

salt and pepper

Method

  • Slice the trout or your chosen fish as described – if you proposed to leave the fish in the acidic mixture for longer than a few hours, make the fish slices a bit thicker than I have.
  • Pour over the citrus, add the chopped vegetables, sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  • Mix carefully and leave in the fridge for about an hour, it will go paler as a result of its acidic immersion.
  • Serve with crusty bread – I chose broa bread and enjoy with a refreshing glass of white wine.

ceviche

Addendum – Parasites and fish

Thanks to Ken at The Garum Factory, I was reminded that I forgot to include a fundamental point in my blog, so much so I thought it should add a bit more info to highlight it. That is wild fish, fresh or salt water can contain parasites that have infectious stages capable of infecting humans, because we are mammals, we are potential hosts for some parasites.

Fish lightly ‘pickled’ in citrus juice, such as ceviche is essentially raw and therefore there is an elevated risk that you may eat a fish containing infective stages of parasites.

Parasites – a life less ordinary

The evolution and ecology of parasitism is a subject I would discuss ad nauseam. As a zoologist, I have always been fascinated by the behavioural ecology, life histories, pathological and immunological effects of parasitism. They are very specialised organisms capable of controlling the behaviour of their hosts to ensure their lifecycle is completed e.g. by releasing chemicals that alter the behaviour of an animal to make it more vulnerable to predation – there are many examples out there in the literature.

Parasitology formed a big component of my academic education.  My PhD focussed on parasitoids – not quite the same as parasitism but with the same evolutionary origins.  Parasitoids differ from parasites because they always kill their host to complete their lifecycle whereas a parasite needs to keep its host alive to complete its lifecycle.  Many insects are parasitoids, this being a relatively common insect life history.  To offer an analogy, the ‘Alien’ films illustrate the life history of a typical parasitoid. The alien is a parasitoid and needs to kill her host to successfully produce offspring. She lays her egg in a human host which is somewhat gruesomely killed as the nascent alien emerges  I digress.  Back to parasites of fish.

Looking for evidence of parasites

Parasites occur naturally in wild fish populations and as an angler, I have gained a bit of local knowledge and experience about which lochs contain fish with parasites, or heavier parasite loads.  I am also familiar with what the main species infecting our fish look like at different life stages within the fish and this helps me make a judgement call about whether I can use the fish for ceviche, cook it, or not use it at all.

It is important to examine the fish externally, gut and clean the fish as soon as possible to reduce migration of parasite larvae into the muscle (although sometimes they will already be there anyway). Also, I slice the fillets very finely.  Providing my examination has given the fish the all clear to the filleting stage, the translucent fillets are easy to see through to check for larvae, a bit like the practice in commercial fish preparation where fish are examined over candling tables, the light shining through fillet to reveal and allow removal of parasites from the flesh.

I would not eat a raw thick fillet, just in case. I would not use fish for ceviche  if I found parasites in the muscle or gut and I would not eat fish with parasite cysts in the flesh at all – even cooked.  Sometimes evidence of parasites can be seen on the outside of the fish and there is the option to return it.

Trout and parasites

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) includes both purely freshwater populations and the diadromous (moving between fresh and salt water) form, sea trout.  Sea trout migrate, spending most time in the sea only returning to freshwater to spawn (so technically they are anadromous).

Parasitic worms known generically as helminths to zoologists, fall into 2 broad categories: roundworms (nematodes) and tapeworms (cestodes). Both are found in brown trout.  Roundworms such as Anisakis simplex are marine in origin, the definitive host (host in which they reproduce) being mammalian – dolphins or whales.  Sea trout can be infected with these worms, but not freshwater brown trout as caught in Loch Hosta. This is an entirely freshwater population of trout. The one most common parasites for freshwater populations is the tapeworm Diphyllobothrium latum.

The fascinating lifecycle of a common parasite

Adult tapeworms of Diphyllobothrium latum can reach remarkable lengths – up to 12m and are found in mammal hosts.  So where does the trout come in?  Well, brace yourself.  Like the lifecycle of many parasites, it involves multiple hosts and life stages and is extraordinarily complex. I have simplified it a bit so you might still be awake at the end of the explanation!

The definitive host – mammal

Adult tapeworms live in a range of definitive mammal hosts, including humans. They are long flattened pale worms composed of nothing more than the scolex (head), neck and the lower body. Each side of the scolex has a slit-like groove, which is a bothrium (tentacle) for attachment to the intestine. They have no mouth and feed by absorption.

They are hermaphrodites that self fertilise (which makes evolutionary sense) and many millions of eggs are continually produced and released in segments called proglottids and leave via the digestive tract.  They can survive for up to 3 years once outside the body.

The first intermediate host – copepod

Hosts e.g. otters here excrete the eggs which make their way into freshwater bodies and streams.  This is where the next host comes in – a small aquatic crustacean called a copepod eats the eggs and the tapeworm larvae hatches within the copepod.  Here it lives for a few weeks, changing form again to an infective procercoid phase.

The second intermediate host – trout

The infected copepods are eaten by trout. When inside the trout, the proceroid migrates to the flesh of the fish and further develops into another form called the plerocercoid. This is the infective stage for us mammals and of most interest to the angler. It is a cream coloured worm, those I have seen are in the region of a few mm wide by 2-3 cm long. If the fish is caught and this infective stage is in the flesh and its presence goes unnoticed and the fish is eaten raw, the parasite has successfully completed its lifecycle and it is back in the definitive host – possibly me!.

Ceviche – don’t try this at home?

In the end you have to weight up the risk against experience, but you are not confident about what you are looking for, if in doubt, cook or freeze your trout.

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51 thoughts on “Ceviche – courtesy of North Uist brown trout

  1. You put me to shame with your hard work! The lambs are looking perky; even nicer soon, with mint sauce, or rosemary! I have been complaining about sunny weather that is deceptively cold, once I have ventured out in it. Compared to your extremes, this must be like the West Indies. Well done both of you, and the trout looks good too. Regards, Pete. X

  2. I know you referenced Loch Hosta, which I assume is a lake, but forgive me for asking a dumb question: is brown trout a freshwater or saltwater fish? I ask because in the US wild freshwater trout are never served raw because of parasites, the worst being tapeworm. While I understand that citrus juice denatures the protein of the fish flesh, is the assumption it also kills anything else harmful? You sound like you know what you’re doing and have been doing it for awhile with no ill effects. Thanks. Ken

    • Ken, Thanks for reminding me about a key point I forgot to include. Please see my rambling addendum at the bottom of the post about fish and parasites. As you will see from my info, brown trout can be either fresh or salt water fish. No ill effects with ceviche so far, well, as far as I am aware 🙂 Hosta is a lake, but in Scotland they are always lochs, with one exception – The Lake of Menteith in the Trossachs (Central Scotland). Thanks! Tracey

      • Tracey–You’ve outdone yourself. What a fascinating exploration on parasitism! As a reader of scientific essays, I’m in awe of your knowledge and deeply appreciative of your willingness to share. I love reading about–and being a bit creeped out–by multi-stage parasite life cycles. Wasps! How horrifying. In any event your addendum was fascinating and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have as the final arbiter of the safety of my ceviche, even if I don’t have quite the same courage of my convictions. It will never happen, but I’d love to attend a workshop where each of the examples you cited were on display, beginning with whatever it is that you identify externally to alert you to the potential dangerous parasite load of particular fish all the way down to whatever it is you’re trying to spot in your translucent slices. Very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to write the piece. It was great. Ken

      • Thank you so much, I enjoy sharing my interests, athough perhaps a bit self-indulgent, I can’t contain my enthusiasm on this subject. Parasitoid wasps are dear to my heart. Even after the endurance of my PhD I still find them fascinating. I do need to check myself sometimes as what is fascinating to me certainly can creep others out. Perhaps not the best choice of subject matter in a food blog, but I had the sense to stop short of photos 🙂 Thanks again for prompting me with your question!

      • Anytime you want to wax poetic about parasites, feel free. Now that I know about your area of expertise I may send you a question now and then. Ken

  3. I hope I remember your gardening the next time I feel like complaining about the weeds in mine. None are so large that it would take 2 men an hour to remove. Your ceviche looks delicious though, as Ken mentioned, I don’t think it wise for us to “do this at home.” You both know far more about this than I so I’ll “listen in” to your conversation. 🙂

    • Thanks, also please see my additional info at the bottom of my post which I added in response to Ken’s parasite query. Regarding the rock, it is not the biggest one we have moved. We found one the size of a baby elephant smack bang in the middle of a planned veg bed. We had to split it and carry it out piece by piece. It took a few days. I dread digging in our garden. I wish it was only weeds, we never know what we will find next 🙂

      • I can only imagine how badly you felt when that behemoth was uncovered. Days to split and haul it? Not good! Thanks for the additional info about the parasites. I’d definitely think twice before using trout in a ceviche, especially if I didn’t catch nor clean the fish myself. Again, thanks for the info.

      • Thanks.Yes, that rock was big and bad, on the upside, tonight I finished digging my potato patch and I found a candlestick 🙂 re-ceviche, I think your approach is right, in fact we don’t serve it to guests, only eat it ourselves.

  4. Welcome back! So nice to read something positive after the recent farming disasters The fishing trip made me chuckle, it reminded me of the time as a kid, someone in the village went one late winters morning, setting up his line in the dark. Only to find as the light broke, it was frozen hard – his ground bait strewn all across the surface! Not sure why he told everyone!

    Love ceviche, a great summer dish as you said – it needs fresh fish and it doesn’t get fresher than that! Envious.

  5. Love the lambs, they remind me of the cygnets of black swans in Canberra. When they are learning to fly, they madly flap their wings and sort of skate on the water surface, before giving up and just floating for a bit. Then they have another go. Hours of entertainment…

    • Yes, I do watch them for hours, such fun, until they get a bit chubby and more single-mindedly interested in grass and sheep food later in the year 🙂 Thanks for sharing your swan story. I would enjoy watching them, if only I had the chance.

    • Thanks, sometimes it is idyllic and interesting, other times, like this week, a bit exhausting with seemingly not enough hours in the day. I’d complain if it was any other way. A book? Not convinced I have one in me, but thank you for your suggestion. I think I would need a ghost writer to curb my rambling habit and digressions. It is so refreshing and empowering to write a blog without being inhibited by word limits! 😉

  6. Spring on North Uist sounds lovely, thanks for writing about it and sharing it with us. I love ceviche too and don’t often have fish fresh enough to make it with – but similarly adapted the River Cottage recipe with trout recently and loved it.
    We still have lots of trout in the freezer so look forward to any other ideas from you on how to cook it. Read this weekend of baking it with hyssop and pancetta (we have lots of our home-cured version) which sounds delicious – and sounds as if you’re going to have lots of pork products to cook with too.

    • Spring is the best season here, no doubt. I hate to be away at this time of year. Hopefully the trout will start filling the freezer soon and I can come up with recipes to share. Your hyssop and pancetta recipe sounds intriguing, look forward to it. We have just finished butchering the Old spot tonight, save for making sausages and bacon, including pancetta. More on that another time! Thanks.

  7. Looks like a cracking dish, another one to add to the long list of things I might never make 🙂
    Good luck with the spuds, you deserve a good crop. Any International Kidneys planned?

  8. Sounds like you’ve been really busy – no wonder you don’t have much time for blogging when you’re digging huge rocks out of the garden. I’m looking forward to your veggie recipes though – so don’t get too distracted by fishing and gardening!

    • Yes, this week has been very manic, but I think we are over the hill now – I certainly feel like it, I’ve got a pretty sore neck from all that digging! I’m sure it will pay off though. Aiming to intersperse my veggie posts with meaty ones to keep the balance. I have a backlog of drafts. Thanks for bearing with me!

  9. Food and Forage – This is a terrific post!!! First, I love how you make such great use of your own catch. Second, the treatise on parasites was fascinating to me – such great information – definitely a cut above the usual information on prepping fish. And it didn’t seem to scare anyone else at least not that they admitted :-). I worry about putting too much science in my posts, so I try and keep it to a minimum. But now I think you’ve inspired me to do more!

    Just one last thought. You are absolutely correct that freezing will kill parasites, but home freezing will not — unless your freezer is below -5 F. At least in the U.S., fish destined to be eaten raw (Sushi quality) is frozen at that temp or below.

    Of course, I don’t have your expertise at poking around for parasites. Can you really see most all of them if you cut thin enough? I’m so impressed.

    • Thank you so much! I stopped short of photos of parasites though 🙂 I would encourage you to write more science into your posts, I can’t resist at times. I like sharing relevant and fascinating facts (they are to me anyway!). Yes, there is a lot of online guidance that I read about freezing temperatures. I didn’t want to go on anymore, I should have put in the links, perhaps. My home freezer can freeze to -5 F. Finally, for this species, our most common muscle occupying infective phase parasite , yes, they are pretty obvious, in size and colour contrast agsinst the muscle. I wouldn’t do the same for some marine parasites of sea fish, too small and same colour as the flesh, best frozen or cooked. Thanks for your interesting comments! Tracey

  10. Hi Tracy. I too have been ‘away’ for a while, managed to sort through around 500 email notifications going back to the end of March and stored a few ‘must read’s. This one is the first of those. Another super, illuminating read – and a recipe thrown in. I think I’ll get to some biscuits eventually when I get into the list. And Winko’s been busy too so I’ve a few of those to catch up on. Thanks again for a superb post.

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