Raw fish and pisco. When you wake up with a raging hangover, these are probably the last things on your wish list. And yet, as I discovered at a ceviche masterclass at Pastuso Restaurant in Melbourne, these Peruvian specialties nail it in the hair-of-the-dog department.
I’ve rocked up, bleary eyed and 10 minutes late, to Alejandro Saravia’s ceviche masterclass, held in conjunction with Cooking Booking. Thirty people are gathered around the bar, listening to the sommelier wax lyrical about Peru’s national grape spirit, pisco. Much like Grand Cru wines, Peruvian pisco must be made in one of five official DOs (Denomination of Origin) regions and, unlike Chilean pisco, it cannot be diluted – don’t even get a Peruvian started on the difference between the two. Into the blender goes pisco, lime juice, sugar syrup and raw egg white, the latter bringing fresh beads of sweat to my brow. Oh well, here goes.
As the bar team pours 30 froth-topped pisco sours and anoints each with a dab of bitters, we take our seats at the communal tables. Alejandro steps to the front and talks us through the class, beginning with the hallmarks of Peruvian ceviche.
“If it’s Peruvian ceviche, you’re going to be eating raw fish, so the freshness and quality of the fish is paramount,” says Alejandro. Whereas Mexican ceviche is cured overnight, and Chilean ceviche favours shellfish, the Peruvian signature is only briefly cured.
Our pisco sours are served, along with a plate of garfish escabeche. The sour is a smooth, balanced blend of sweet and tart, with a creamy texture courtesy of that egg white. As far as recovery cocktails go, it’s a cracker.
Alejandro takes his place behind the ceviche bar and we gather around to watch him deftly fillet a whole snapper. “Snapper is my preference for the ceviche Peruano because it’s delicate and light,” says Alejandro. Known as leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, the marinade for the ceviche is a punchy blend of lemon, lime, aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli paste) and coriander roots. “I use a ratio of 60:40 lemon to lime juice,” Alejandro explains. “It’s the right level of acidity and not too aggressive on the palate.”
My ears prick up at his next statement: “In Peruvian street culture, this is known as the best cure for a hangover. You have shot of tiger’s milk and a beer. That’s how we roll on a Saturday – it brings dead people to life again.” Sold.
I’ve always thought ceviche required hours of marinating to ‘cook’ the seafood in the citrus juice, but in Peru, it barely gets to say hello to the tiger’s milk. “You toss it quickly in the tiger’s milk and then serve it straight away. Even one minute is too much,” says Alejandro. “You don’t want the fish to turn white or take on a milky, chewy texture. Everything should be in balance: the citrus, the heat and the sweet flavours of the sea.”
For the second ceviche, an Amazonian variety with a stronger, orange-based marinade, Alejandro chooses Ora King salmon, which he describes as “the best salmon in the world. It’s free-range and sustainably farmed in New Zealand.” We’re served both versions back at the table, the light, bright Peruano style and the richer, sweeter salmon ceviche.
To drink, we’re served a slightly spritzy Txakolina, a zesty, minerally white wine from the Basque region of Spain, which gets along swimmingly with the citrus-driven dishes. By now, the hangover is long forgotten and the noise levels gather around the tables as we collectively realise we’re not just here to learn a new kitchen skill; we’re sharing a sensational meal with like-minded people.
A main course of steamed barramundi with salsa sudado offers a nod to the Japanese population in Peru. Layered with rice vinegar, dashi, soy sauce and kombu seaweed, it’s a delicate, gentle dish that presents a different perspective of this multitextured cuisine. A Ruca Malen chardonnay from the high-altitude vineyards of Mendoza offers rich, buttery notes courtesy of MLF (malolactic fermentation) and oak maturation, kept in check by the fine line of acidity and the stone fruit and citrus flavours.
The Pastuso team complete this generous experience with a trio of desserts, including an orange-curd custard with tres leche cake, purple corn jelly, and a chilli-dusted chocolate. A glass of red vermouth with a wedge of orange is the cleansing, clever pairing for this course.
Three hours have passed since I sheepishly arrived, dreading the onslaught of booze and raw fish, and yet, as I emerge back into ACDC Lane I realise I’ve never felt better. Alejandro was right: after a big night, tiger’s milk is where it’s at.
Thanks to Amanda Vallis at Cooking Booking for hosting me. The Pastuso Ceviche Masterclass was the first in a fantastic line-up of masterclasses with some of Melbourne’s top chefs.
- Get the lowdown on American barbecue from Chris Terlikar of Bluebonnet Barbecue, 20 August
- Learn from the master of pasta, Andreas Papadakis at Tipo 00, 28 August
- Watch Ryan Flaherty of Mister Jennings create the ultimate seasonal menu, 3 September
- Indulge in cheese and charcuterie with Todd Moses at French Saloon, 10 September
- Or try your hand at Peking duck with Victor Liong at Lee Ho Fook, 17 September
Visit cookingbooking.com for more foodie events in Australia and abroad.