The water was warm, really warm, particularly in the shallow area near the shore where we beached the boat and the group gathered, drinking beer from ice-cold bottles. Not only was the water especially warm, but exceptionally clear, with schools of minnows darting between our legs. And now it was time to feast.
Captain Pepe leaned over the boat’s gunnel and handed Hank a platter of Hogfish Ceviche and a fresh sleeve of Saltines. “Is that fish raw?” asked one of Hank’s bikini-clad bankers–Hank was refinancing a hotel, and his lender had flown down two female junior bankers from Atlanta to close the deal–at least that’s how Hank explained it.
“The fish is cooked by the lime juice. This is the freshest ceviche you’ll ever have. It’s the best. Let me show you.” Pepe shoveled a mouthful of vibrant ceviche onto a Saltine, and popped the whole kit into his mouth. He smiled ear-to-ear, chewing, his bright white teeth reflecting the afternoon sun.
Ceviche on the beach after a morning shooting hogfish is our Promised Land. It is the ideal place in time and space. Eating raw fish within thirty minutes of chasing-it-down and spearing it is a transformational experience. You literally feel the energy still in the fish as you chew.
On this excursion we speared six hogs in the first twenty minutes in the water, the last one shot just behind its eye, I stoned him dead, with no struggle, the fish was killed instantly without the usual blood and thrashing that can bring the barracudas and sharks.
We fileted the fish and prepped the ceviche ingredients on a small clean piece of starboard that was reserved for these special occasions: entertaining attractive guests from the mainland who have never eaten fish so fresh it’s still moving while you’re chewing.
Pepe had constructed this simple combination hundreds of times, first as a young boy with his father in Mexico. A small onion, a whole habanero pepper, a diced fresh tomato, half a sweet red pepper, a handful of fresh cilantro, juice from two limes, a pinch of salt, and three handfuls of diced fresh white fish.
Pepe had the ceviche prepped in less than five minutes, and allowed the lime juice to convert the raw fish and bring the concoction to perfection while he beached the boat and handed-out cold beer. And while our banker friends hesitated briefly when offered the first taste, Captain Pepe–not known for his chivalry–was quick to volunteer as exhibit A. As Pepe would recant at the BBQ later in the evening, “Those girls didn’t know what the hell they were about to miss on the beach with that fresh ceviche.” This is not unusual for first timers with ceviche. Most hesitate the first time they eat something new, especially if it’s perceived to be raw.
But our guests didn’t hesitate much longer, after seeing Pepe’s wide grin when he reached for another helping, and his comment that “this shit puts lead in your pencil,” the ladies reached-out their hands and each received a heaping cracker-topped gift, fresh from the sea. Spicy, limey, sweet from the pepper and fragrant from the cilantro, this fresh fish protein is a delicious and fulfilling gift, especially after the physical workout of chasing fish underwater. The cold beer is the perfect compliment to this snack, and soon everyone is competitively eying how much ceviche remains in the dish.
“Is that ceviche still moving in the bowl?,” the younger bikini banker hesitantly asked. “Why yes. It is,” quipped Hank. The deal was about to close. “And yes, I’ll take your bank’s offer. You two are a lot of fun . . . and we still have the BBQ tonight.”
“Plan your picnic on a private beach. Call your concierge to coordinate.”