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Pairing ceviche with the perfect beverage

What should you sip with ceviche? The first rule, as always, is drink what you like.

But if you want to enhance both ceviche and whatever you are imbibing, the beverage lists at both Sazón Restaurant and Mateo’s Cocina Latina offer delicious options.

“Our sangrias are not sweet,” chef and co-owner José Navarro said, adding that they are the two most popular selections.

For a more delicate ceviche, such as the Clásico, and Ceviche Verde, with its bright cilantro flavor, white sangria is the best match. Add rich ingredients, as you find in Ceviche Mango and Ahi Ceviche Nikei, with soy, ponzu and sesame, and you’ll enjoy red sangria alongside.

Sparkling wines are always a good choice, too, and Sazón offers several, along with two albariños, a white Spanish varietal that is lean, bright and refreshing, with threads of cooling minerality.

The wine list at Sazón has been shaped to complement both the restaurant’s ceviches and its other selections, From Chenin Blanc Tabernero, a Peruvian wine, to Casillero del Diablo, a Chilean pinot noir, the selections are thoughtful, engaging and reasonably priced.

When it come to beer, you probably want to avoid double and triple IPAs, no matter how much you love them, as hops will eclipse the more delicate flavors of the fish and its seasonings. Try one of Sazón’s Peruvian beers instead, or opt for a light-bodied pilsner.

There are also cocktails, including a classic Pisco Sour, a gluten-free beer and several nonalcoholic selections.

Mateo’s Cocina Latina has a full bar that includes a breathtaking selection of artisan tequilas and mezcals, so if a shot is your preference, have at it, though realize that straight alcohol will deaden your palate a bit. A tangy margarita might be a better choice with ceviche.

If it’s wine you want, there are unfamiliar selections that will delight both wine novices and aficionados. Santa Rosa’s Petrichor Vineyards’ Rosé is extraordinary with the restaurant’s spring ceviche, but it is just one of several outstanding options. Other standouts include En Garde Rosé of Pinot Noir, En Garde Albariño, Leo Steen Dry Creek Valley Saini Vineyard Chenin Blanc, Belden Barns Sonoma Mountain Estate Grüner Vetliner, Sassoferrato Vermentino and Cruess Russian River Valley Fiano.

Finally, taco trucks and taquerias typically offer at least one aqua fresca, which is nonalcoholic and based on fruit, almonds or flowers. Horchata, made with almonds and perhaps the most common version, is a bit too rich for a delicate ceviche, and you want to avoid beverages that are quite sweet, as melon agua frescas can be. But if the sweet-tart Agua Fresca di Jamaica — made with dried hibiscus flowers — is offered, get it, as it is the ideal match for your ceviche tostada.

– Michele Anna Jordan

Sazón, a sweet little restaurant in the heart of Roseland, opened on Sebastopol Road in the summer of 2010, bringing traditional and innovative Peruvian cuisine to Sonoma County.

Among its most popular selections is ceviche, with six versions on the standard menus and others offered now and then as specials.

Ceviche in its many iterations is ubiquitous throughout the coastal regions of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

Simply put, it is fish or shellfish marinated in citrus juice and spices. The type of fish, the way it is cut, the specific citrus and various seasonings and its garnishes and accompaniments vary widely from region to region, but the core ingredients of fish and acid remain the same.

In the U.S., we are most familiar with Mexican-style ceviche, which is typically made with chopped white fish marinated in lime juice for several hours, tossed with pico de gallo and served atop a crisp corn tortilla, for a ceviche tostada.

Ceviche is often referred to as raw fish but that’s not quite accurate. Acid denatures protein, just as heat does, though there are a few differences.

Heat kills bacteria and other interlopers but citrus mostly does not, thus ceviche often comes with health warnings, especially for pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system.

The best hedges against any problems are to use only the very freshest fish from a reliable fish monger and to slice it paper thin, which also helps anyone who may be squeamish about the taste or texture of raw fish.

Sazón’s ceviche is made to order and not prepared in advance or marinated overnight, as recipes for home cooks often instruct.

“Ceviche is marinated overnight only when the fish is thickly cut,” explained José Navarro, chef and co-owner of Sazón (1129 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa.)

For fish, he primarily uses farmed tilapia. “I like the texture,” he said. “But rock cod is good, too, and halibut is the best.”

The restaurant’s most popular ceviches are the Clásico, the simplest version made of very thinly sliced tilapia; and the Mixto, which includes prawns, scallops, clams and squid, all of which are blanched, in addition to tilapia.

Both are seasoned with rocoto, a Peruvian chile similar to cayenne; and Leche de Tigre, fish fumet spiked with lime juice, fresh ginger and a bit of evaporated milk.

The Clásico is served with plantain chips, the Mixto with Cuzco corn and sweet potato. Cuzco is giant corn, which must be boiled to be edible; it is often confused with hominy, though it is an entirely different variety, with ears that Navarro described as enormous.

Other selections include Ceviche Verde, with mussels, clams, tilapia and puréed cilantro; Ceviche Mango, with prawns and mango purée; Ahi Ceviche Nikei, with ahi tuna, jalapeños and avocado; Copitos de Peruvian Blue Tilapia, with ginger, celery and parsley; and Jalea de Marisco, made of fried calamari, shrimp and fish and served with fried yuca and a selection of house-made salsas and sauces, including Rocoto Aioli.

Among the off-menu, special ceviches is Ceviche de Leche de Tigre con Jalea, presented dramatically in an over-sized Margarita glass filled with the special ceviche and topped with fried calamari.

José Navarro’s recipes are inspired by his early years growing up in Lima, Peru, where he was born, and in Piura, a northwestern city near the Ecuadorian border. Both countries vie for the title of “Birthplace of Ceviche” so you could say that Navarro has been inspired by the best of both worlds.

His older brother, Manny Navarro, is a partner in the restaurant. Three years ago, they purchased Perry’s Deli, adjacent to their original restaurant. They’ve kept most of Perry’s specialities while adding other items, including Peruvian sandwiches, and sometime soon may offer a Ceviche of the Week, likely on a single day. On weekends, busy weeknights, and for special events, the spacious deli becomes a second dining room.

Yucatecan ceviche

In Healdsburg, Mateo’s Cocina Latino (214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg) has been serving chef Mateo Granados’s signature ceviche since the restaurant opened in 2011. The menu features a single version, listed only as Ceviche and described as “halibut ceviche, with seasonal salsa.”

This ceviche combines flavors and techniques from the chef’s native Yucatan with Japanese techniques.

“In the Yucatan,” fish for ceviche is cut into very small squares,” he said, slicing a fillet of halibut from Bolinas that had arrived at the restaurant earlier that day. “I slice it as thinly as possible, as they do in Japan.”

His ceviche, like Sazón’s, is made to order. With all of the ingredients before him — his mise en place — it takes mere minutes to make, and by the time a server whisks it into the dining room, the acid has permeated the fish.

This ceviche is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. No matter the season, Granados’ ceviches shimmer as if they are filled with an inner light, as if they were miniature stained glass windows on a sunny morning. (For photographs of this ceviche, as well as the chef’s slicing and assembling techniques, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com)

Granados is adamant about the quality of his ingredients. About 70 percent of the produce the restaurant uses is grown in raised beds along the perimeter of the patio. But it is specific fish that matters most.

“I use only wild line-caught halibut from California,” he explained, adding that Alaskan halibut produces a mushy ceviche. He refuses to use any net-caught fish because of by-catch and eschews farmed fish entirely. Now and then, he makes one other kind of ceviche, when he can get good day boat scallops, which he slices very thinly, just as he does the halibut.

He is also picky about citrus, preferring yuzu, a tart Japanese fruit, that is provided by a local winery that has a single tree.

“If you can’t get yuzu, use lemon,” he said. “I don’t like to use lime because I think it interferes with the pristine flavors of the fish. Plus, I had so much lime in the Yucatan that I’m done with it!”

Other ceviches

There are other options for unique versions of ceviche in Sonoma County.

At Handline (935 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol), there are two versions on the menu. Rosarito’s is made with rockfish and includes lime, cilantro and habañero; Todos Santos combines striped bass with poached pumpkin, hominy, jalapeño and Leche de Tigre.

Willie’s Seafood and Raw Bar (403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg) features several ceviches, as well. There’s a daily version and one made of hamachi with rocoto, lime juice and pumpkin seeds.

And throughout Roseland and beyond, at taco trucks, taquerias and Mexican restaurants, there are classic versions, beckoning you to eat your way through them all until you find your favorites.

In this recipe, José Navarro keeps things simple for the home cook with a basic ceviche. If you want to duplicate what you enjoy at the restaurant, it’s easy: You can buy Leche de Tigre, rocoto and other specialty ingredients from the restaurant and, if you can catch him, ask José for advice on exactly what to do.

Sazon’s Ceviche Clásico for Home Cooks

Serves 4

1 small white sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced, optional

— Kosher salt or best-quality sea salt

— Olive oil

8-10 ounces, white fish fillet, such as halibut, rock cod or tilapia

½ cup lime juice, from 3 or 4 limes (see Note below)

— Pinch or two of ground cayenne, ground chipotle or other hot pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, torn or chopped

— Tortilla chips or plantain chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If using the sweet potato, cook it first. Spread a rectangle of cooking parchment on your work surface (if you do not have parchment, use aluminum foil, though it is no longer recommended for direct cooking because of health concerns).

Put the sliced sweet potato off center, season with salt and drizzle with a little olive oil. Fold the parchment over the sweet potato, and close the packet by making 1 to 2 inch folds, start at the top and continuing until the packet is tightly closed. Set on a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. The sweet potatoes should be tender but with a bit of resistance; they should not be mushy. Remove from the oven, tear open the packet and set aside to cool.

Cut the fish into very thin slices and set in a wide shallow bowl.

Season lightly with salt, add the lime juice, hot pepper, red onion and hot pepper. Toss very gently and set aside for five minutes.

Divide among individual plates or bowls, add slices of sweet potato, if using, and enjoy right away, with tortilla chips or plantain chips alongside.

Note: Chef owner José Navarro recommends juicing limes gently without pressing all the way to the skin; this prevents bitterness.

Although Chef Mateo Granados’ ceviche contains a bit of sugar and segments of orange, it is not at all sweet. These ingredients, the chef says, balance the acid. He uses Preston Vineyards and Farm’s olive oil and picks both mustard and cilantro from his restaurant garden.

Mateo Granados’s Halibut Ceviche for Spring

Serves 3 to 4

8-10 ounces very fresh wild halibut fillet, preferably line-caught

½- 3/4 cup freshly squeezed and strained yuzu juice (or lemon juice)

— Generous pinch of sugar

2 teaspoons minced serrrano pepper, preferably red

1 thin slice of red onion, rings separated and halved

¼ cup, approximately, very thinly sliced fresh fennel

1 radish, very thinly sliced

4 blood orange segments, membranes removed, broken into thirds

4 Cara Cara orange slices, membranes removed, broken into thirds

1/4 cup, approximately, wild mustard flowers and small leaves

— Kosher salt or best-quality sea salt flakes

4 teaspoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Set 4 wide shallow bowls near a clean work surface.

Using a very sharp knife, cut the halibut into very thin slices. To do so, hold the knife at a sharp angle and shave off each slice, moving the knife from right to left or left to right, instead of cutting straight down. As you cut, set each slice in a bowl, arranging them over the bottom of it and overlapping the slices just slightly.

Put the yuzu or citrus juice into a bowl, add the sugar and stir vigorously until it is completely dissolved. Set it aside.

Prepare all the other ingredients and set them near your work surface.

To finish the ceviche, spoon citrus juice over each portion, drizzling it over the fish; there should be enough that it pools in the bowl. Scatter serrano, red onion, fennel, radish slices and orange segments over each serving and add the mustard flowers and leaves.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over each portion, adding it droplet by droplet.

Enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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