Peru sits along the western edge of South America, jutting out slightly into the South Pacific Ocean. This tiny country’s ample access to the ocean typically steers most of the local cuisine toward seafood. Fish of many kinds may be harvested fresh and incorporated into local dishes. A few types of Peruvian seafood dishes include various types of chowders, shellfish causas, and dozens of different kinds of raw ceviches.
The high availability of seafood in Peru means that many Peruvian seafood dishes are very simple. Some of this simpler fare includes sautéed tilapia fillets or steamed shellfish. What makes these dishes Peruvian are the creamy, pepper-based sauces often served with them. These sauces typically feature a variety of hot chilies, garlic, onions, potatoes, and even citrus juice. Some of the sauces are served on top of the fish, while others are set in a bowl on the side.
Creamy chowders, or chupes, make up a category of Peruvian seafood dishes that may be found throughout the country. Some of these chowders include chicken, but most traditional recipes call for seafood. Chupe de camarones, or shrimp chowder, is generally a local favorite, as is Peruvian-style clam chowder or fish chowder. These chowders often use a combination of starchy vegetables, hot spices, and cream to give them rich layers of very deep flavor.
Some traditional starches in chupes include potatoes, corn, peas, and beans. A chowder may include all four of these ingredients or may only use two or three. The cook generally simmers the starches together with cream and spices, mashing and blending the starches into a thick broth when they’ve become soft. Seafood isn’t typically added to a chupe until the dish is nearly finished. This helps preserve the texture and flavor of the fish and avoid overcooking.
Causas are another popular Peruvian seafood dish. The causa wraps are made from a dough comprised of starchy potatoes and native spices. The cook pats the dough into thin discs and fills them with a combination of seafood and roasted vegetables. Chicken and beef may also be used, but crab, tilapia, and shrimp are among the most popular causa fillings. They’re often combined with avocadoes, tomatoes, and spicy or sweet peppers.
Ceviche is also a very popular Peruvian seafood dish. It is made up entirely of raw ingredients, so the fish is never cooked over heat. Most ceviches start with flaked fish fillets or chopped shellfish and citrus juice, which may be any combination of lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit juices. The fish generally marinates in a bowl with the citrus juice and vegetables for about three hours. The acid in the juice basically cooks the fish, in a method similar to pickling. Popular ceviche vegetables include tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Ceviches are often scooped up and eaten with some kind of dense bread.