Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophe Shakespeare September. Today, we’re taking Shakespeare to a generalized European setting, and also Peru, in order to make Peruvian Ceviche, using leche de tigre. If you just want the skip the reel and just get the fish, there’s a link right here. For the rest of us, let’s talk about ME.
More Than A Creeping Thing
There is a line that has been stuck in my head for seven or eight years. I first heard it while sweaty, itchy, and a little drunk, sitting in a friend’s apartment after a day of work. It came from Ralph Fiennes’ production of Coriolanus. Let me set the scene:
Martius Coriolanus is a Roman general who, after a hugely successful military campaign, failed in a run for Roman governance SO BADLY that they exiled him. In vengeance, he allied with the Volscians, Rome’s current military enemies, and is crushing the Roman opposition on his way to take the city. One man, played by Brian Cox, and whose political ambitions and maneuverings are, in no small part, why Coriolanus failed in his election bid, goes to negotiate with him. He leaves the talk, shaken. He walks up to the others, and says in a broken, resigned voice “This Martius is grown from man to Dragon. He has wings. He is more than a creeping thing.” He passes to the car, opens the door, pauses, and turns. And in a voice dripping with exhaustion and resignation he states: “There is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger.” He enters the car, and is driven back to Rome, where the next scene shows him quietly and calmly COMMITTING SUICIDE to escape the pain he thinks Coriolanus will inflict on him and Rome.
Did I mention this play was a tragedy? Because oh boy is it a tragedy.
And that line has been locked, echoing in my mind, since I heard it. “There is no more mercy in him than milk in a male tiger.” It’s beautiful to me. It so beautifully implies the sheer destruction awaiting them: not only is there no mercy, but to seek it would provoke him, and he would tear you apart as viciously as a tiger.
This idea has sat with me for years, and as such, when I learned that Peruvian Ceviche is made with a marinade named leche de Tigre, or “Tiger’s Milk”, I knew in my heart of hearts that I was GOING to make the dish someday. No matter how much it would hurt me, for, if you are unaware, Ceviche is a dish of barely-cured fish, where raw fish is tossed in a salt and acid brine to briefly “cook” before serving. Depending on the acidity of the marinade, size of the fish, and desired “doneness”, this process may take an hour, thirty minutes, or as little as two minutes. And, in case you’ve forgotten, I don’t like fish.
So I was super-excited to present this to you, when, to grab the exact wording of line, I discovered that this scene is heavily CUT AND MOVED in Fiennes’s version. And let me tell you, I’m torn on the choice. Not because I believe you shouldn’t edit Shakespeare. Far from it, I actually take what may sound reasonable, but can be a very fraught position with Shakespearean text: I think it’s perfectly fine, even sometimes preferable, to edit the script, but that there is a limit to what you can do in good taste.
A high-school comedy about a gay student using a magic spell he got from a special copy of Midsummer Night’s Dream to make the whole school gay is…Well, it may not be in the best taste, but damn if it isn’t an amazing premise, and pretty enjoyable film.
Now, if you know nothing about Shakespeare, that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. If you know SOME about Shakespeare, it might sound much worse: You’re taking the text of one of the great playwrights of the last millennia, and thinking YOU have the skill to edit it? When you know MORE about Shakespeare, I think(/hope) it becomes a little more understandable and tolerable: Yes, many of Shakespeare’s plays are great. They’re also not perfect. Half his shows are adaptations of older works, he fucks up facts about places ALL the time, some of his plays endorse ideas that aren’t great things to say anymore (at one point in Much Ado, for instance, a man swears he’ll keep his word and marry whoever he’s ordered to…even if she’s black.) and Will himself maybe wasn’t above editing a show to pander to the audience of a given weekend. (Several of his shows have differing versions of relative good/contemporary origin, implying that he, the company, or the hosts for a given show asked for/made changes. We sadly just don’t know if he himself was involved.) Because of this, I’m personally of the opinion that editing and re-working Shakespeare (and indeed, ALL public domain works) is perfectly fine and acceptable.
But it can go too far: I have heard of directors who have taken a show like the Tempest, a play that can run up to 3 hours, and ADDED 2 hours of content to it. I’ve been in Shakespearean plays that added lines, songs, even whole scenes. And personally, I’ve found that a deft hand at addition is best. I think it’s easier, and often better, to TRIM Shakespeare, rather than beef him up.
I knew searching “swole Shakespeare” was going to get me SOMETHING funny.
I didn’t expect it to be printed merch.
I also didn’t expect it to piss off my “pedantic Early Modern English” center: -eth is a VERB ENDING.
Is ‘thicc’ a verb now?!
But, to my specific issues with Coriolanus’s editing… it’s tricky to talk about. First, I want to discuss the cutting: As I noted, the character has about 3-4 lines in the movie in this scene. IN that he speaks 3-4 sentences in a single “line”. The play gives him almost TEN TIMES that, at 29 lines of text in 4 paragraphs: the speech is HUGE, and it paints a BLEAK picture for the future of Rome, and the terrifying presence of Coriolanus. It is a pounding force of “we’re fucked, we’re fucked, we’re fucked.” Listen to (or, well, read, I guess) this slight paraphrase/summation:
See you yon corner-stone of the Capital building? If it be possible for you to displace it with your little finger, there is some hope they may prevail with him. But I say there is no hope: our throats are sentenced and await the execution.
(Is it possible he’s changed so much?)
There is a difference between grubs and butterflies, though a butterfly was once a grub. This Coriolanus has similarly grown from man to dragon: He has wings; he’s more than a creeping thing. The tartness of his face sours grapes; when he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his tread; his eyes can pierce armor and his voice rings like a death knell. He sits in his state like a thing made for Alexander the Great. He lacks nothing of a God but eternity and a Heaven to rule.
(Mercy, I can’t bear to think he is like this. )
He is EXACTLY like I say. And there is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger. Our poor city will discover this soon, and it’s your fault.
(May the gods protect us)
Oh no. Not from this. We turned our backs on the gods when we banished him, so now that he comes to break our necks, they turn their backs on us.
That’s…SUPER FUCKING BLEAK. It paints a picture of the utter doom of Rome that is amazingly vivid and worrying, inexorably crushed by the unstoppable War-God that Coriolanus has become.
There’s some heavy Genghis Khan vibes in the scene where he talks to the dude, so it reads.
Which is why I wish it was still in the scene now that Ralph Fiennes moved it. Because here’s the funny thing about that monologue in the original play: It’s wrong. The guy’s pronouncement of doom is completely incorrect, and we the audience KNOW it is.
The original play has this guy meet with Coriolanus and fail to move him, and then the women go and successfully persuade him, and THEN this speech happens. Indeed, 6 or so lines after this bleak pronouncement of their doom, a messenger shows up and goes “Everyone, the women did it! We’re saved!” Which leads me to think the speech is meant to be a joke: that the senator paints this horribly bleak picture of how we’re all doomed…while we know everything’s fine, so he comes across as being melodramatic.
“God, Agrippa, you’re such a drama queen.”
But moving this speech BEFORE the women’s scene inverts that speech, turning it into, in my opinion, maybe one of the best villain hype-pieces I’ve ever read. It sets the stakes before his family comes to negotiate: If this DOESN’T work, we’re all definitely going to be murdered, and I don’t think it’s going to work. This, moved before the pleading of his family, gives an amazing build of dramatic tension to the scene.
And I’m not CERTAIN it wouldn’t have been better to hear that build, rather than the version we got. Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE the film version, and I still think the line is a great line. I just wish I had video of Brian Cox doing the full speech, so I could compare the two directly, and say “yeah, I like X version more.”
So, now that I’ve spent 1400 words talking about one of Shakespeare’s lesser-liked or discussed tragedies, let’s talk about the Fish Salad I made to commemorate it.
Time to Peru-se The Fish Market
Ceviche (pronounced se-VEE-chay) is a dish with a moderately complicated history, partly because it’s a relatively simple idea: if you coat raw fish bits in salt and/or acid, it “cooks” the meat (technically, it slightly CURES the meat, but the point is that the proteins get denatured, and “is curing a form of cooking” is a culinary rabbit-hole we DON’T have time to go down right now), allowing you to eat it with increased safety. With such a simple idea, and the cavalier nature with which Spanish explorers “unified” Central and Southern America, it’s difficult to be exactly sure who invented what, and who called it what.
‘Good news, everyone. You’re all learning fucking SPANISH now.”
Hell, the “who called it what” conversation is its OWN mess: no one knows where the word COMES from. The common theory is that it’s from the same root as escabeche (ess-ka-bay-chay) a Spanish/Mediterranean dish of…meat or fish marinated and/or cooked in acid, specifically, vinegar. Which…I mean, it certainly SOUNDS like a slam-dunk: “Hey, we have these two dishes about cooking meat with acid that sound kind of the same, you think they’re related?”
Sadly, as linguistics so often loves to remind us, the answer to that can, and often IS, “no”. (Cleave means the exact OPPOSITE of itself, because two words from different languages got translated into it.) On the other hand…the Spainard accent often makes Bs and Vs audibly indistinguishable, so maybe it’s a corruption/alteration of “escaveche”. If that IS the etymology, it’s kind of funny, because it eventually roots the word in the Mozarabic/Andalusian Arabic we talked about with the Pinchos Morunos, Zeppola, and Casserole posts, making things EVEN MESSIER. However, it could also come from the Latin “cibus”, meaning “food”, or somehow related to native Peruvian terms: Peru has a sometimes-fermented drink called “chicha” that they used to marinate fish, so it’s all a huge mess.
Which, to be fair, so are the dishes. Escabeche looks like someone made a really shitty attempt at soup most of the time, and like someone tried to make salsa after hearing a madman describe it to them the rest of the time.
MODERN Ceviche is certainly a product of Spanish influence on Central America cuisine, however, since it mixes fish with citrus fruits, which I’ve noted in the past are from Asia originally. As such, the dish has spread wildly throughout Central and Southern America with different countries doing different styles on it. Peru’s is typically served with the core two New World Crops indigenous to the Andes, Corn and Potatoes (sweet potatoes, specifically). Mexico tends to use onions, and sometimes serves it “dry”, drained on chips or charred tortillas. Ecuador uses tomatoes, the Caribbean does a whole mess of things. (Jamaica, weirdly, doesn’t have its own variety of ceviche…because it has its own style of ESCABECHE, which they CALL escovitch (pronounced es-ko-veetch, so it SOUNDS like ceviche), because of course there had to be more linguistic shit.)
So, our sources semi-sorted, let us sortie out for seafood sauce and substance!
Making a Mess of Marinade
Now, the base of a good Peruvian Ceviche is the leche de tigre, a marinade of acid, salt, and flavors. It’s become a signature dish of its own in Peru, as people would insist on drinking the ceviche marinade after eating it, and it’s become a popular appetizer, hang-over cure, and rumored aphrodisiac. And making it properly was one of the things that held me back for a LONG time from doing this recipe for a pretty dumb reason: E-commerce.
Specifically, I prefer not to use it. I’ll DO it, mainly to get books that my local bookstores don’t carry, or to Kickstart board games, but by preference I buy my goods in person. This makes things difficult when a key ingredient to Peruvian Ceviche is Ají, a type of pepper that is somewhat interesting in that it is a member of Capsicum baccatum, one of the five domesticated species of peppers, and NOT c. chinense or annuum, which, as we mentioned in a past post, are the two species that make up like, 90% of all peppers you know. It also is basically only grown in Peru, which made FINDING IT in person a real bitch. I ended up ordering a jar of paste off Amazon a couple months back when I also ordered some technical components to upgrade site operations.
Fun Spanish fact: that slogan reads “of the good…the best”. Which is a good slogan.
Food nerd fact: a NYT video like, 2 days ago showed Claire Saffitz of Bon Appetit has this exact bottle of paste in her fridge too, which makes me feel like a culinary genius.
Once you’ve got the pepper paste, the rest of the marinade is…well, it’s not “normal”, but it’s not all THAT weird, excepting one other ingredient, according to our recipe source, Saveur magazine. I mentioned that this is a mixture of salt and acid, so it shouldn’t surprise you that you need lime juice, though the fact that you need 2 CUPS of it is a little bold. The average lime produces at most 2 tbsps of Juice, so hand-juicing limes, you’d need…32 to make that much.
You can see me juicing my “limes” here.
The Salt comes from a couple tablespoons of kosher salt, as well as fish stock. The rest of the aromatics are a little weird, but generally understandable in a South American flavor profile: Garlic, cilantro (which Nate generously accepted the inclusion of), onion, celery, ginger, the pepper paste. But what finished the mix was the weird part: 5 ounces of white fish. That’s right, our fish marinade is ALSO a “fish marinade”.
Pro-tip: if you’re pureeing 5 oz of fish, 4 cups of liquid, and vegetables, DON’T use the 5 cup food processor your family uses to make margaritas.
Once you’ve assembled the leche ingredients, you just blend and strain them in order to get a…pretty weird mixture. It tastes mostly like salty lime juice, with some herbal/vegetal flavors on the back. I don’t hate it, but I don’t understand it. (Side note: on reviewing the recipe, we DEFINITELY skipped at least part of it. I don’t remember adding the 2/3rd cup cold water, and I DEFINITELY didn’t blend in any ice cubes. So our mixture is at least partially over-seasoned…)
This looks like lime-ade, and tastes like weird lime-ade.
That done, it’s time to assemble the rest of the components. Or you can be like me and take a 2-3 hour break to watch football and play video games. EVENTUALLY it’s time to assemble the rest of the ingredients. My recipe was roughly based on one from Bon Appetit, and, since we had the Leche, we went full Peru. We boiled sweet potato to ball out the flesh, and steamed corn so we could have it mixed in, along with some thinly sliced red onion, and an additional plop of Ají paste. Cube up a pound of white fish, toss with the leche and some ice, and toss everything else in as well.
The amber lighting of my house’s kitchen is a CONSTANT problem with orange ingredients.
Now, my recipe calls for a curing time of a mere 2 minutes, but my brother works with a woman of Peruvian descent, who also said you could let it cure for up to an hour, and had some suggestions for the recipe if we tried it again. Which…maybe we will? The fascinating thing about the dish is how unremarkable it was. Which sounds like faint praise, but remember: Nate hates cilantro, my mother doesn’t like onions, and I don’t like fish. This dish was, through random chance, BUILT to specifically hit all of our dislikes: this is a mixture of fish, onion, and vegetables coated in a fish-onion-cilantro sauce. And we were all fine with it. None of us hated it. I think my mother had more the next day, since you can store ceviche for up to three days in the fridge, but be aware that if you don’t drain it, it WILL continue to marinate: my mother discovered that the onions had become particularly pungent the second day. But for a dish we all went into bracing ourselves to be unhappy with, we walked away saying “Oh, that wasn’t bad.” I still have 3 cups of leche de tigre left, so I have to figure SOMETHING to do with it, but I’m not dreading the idea, like I thought I would be.
AND THAT’S how an edited monologue from an indie film based on one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedies got me to eat acid-washed fish. What a journey we’ve been on. As ever, your fiscal support through Patreon helps us do things like order weird pepper pastes to make tiger milk for fish cups. And sharing our content on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (Well, you don’t share on Instagram, but you get the idea.) gets more people laughing and reading, and hey, isn’t that a good thing?
THURSDAY: WE DISCUSS THE MANY INTERESTING FACETS OF PERUVIAN FOOD.
MONDAY: I THINK WE’LL BE EATING MEATY MIDNIGHT MUSHROOMS, BUT MAYBE SOMETHING ELSE.
Let's dive into the
1 pound white fish, cubed
1 Sweet potato, roughly ½ pound
1 Red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 ear of corn, husked
1 tsp Ají Amarillo paste
½ cup Leche de Tigre
Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Boil the sweet potato until softened to fork-tenderness, roughly 30 minutes. Then, in the same pot, steam the corn for 3-4 minutes. Allow to cool, and process: cut the potato in half, and using a melon baller or small ice cream scoop, scoop out small balls of sweet potato, setting aside. Cut the kernels off of the corn cob, reserving 1/3 cup for the actual recipe.
Make the ceviche by adding the ají paste, fish, 2/3rds of the onion, and 4 ice cubes to a large bowl, and pouring over leche de tigre. Stir to combine, and allow to marinate for 2 minutes. Then stir in sweet potato and corn, and season with salt.
Serve by portioning out ceviche into bowls with a slotted spoon, topping with reserved onion and, if desired, chopped cilantro leaves. Spoon over leche from bottom of the bowl.
Leche de Tigre
2 cups lime juice
5 oz. firm white fish (fluke, seabass, flounder, halibut, cod, or sole)
1 cup fish stock
½ large yellow onion, sliced (1 cup)
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. finely grated fresh peeled ginger
2 tsp. finely chopped cilantro stems
1 tsp. ají Amarillo paste
2/3 cup cold water
2 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup ice cubes
Place all ingredients except the salt and ice cubes into a blender or food processor and blend until fully liquefied, 4-5 minutes. Then add the salt and ice cubes, and blend for another 45-60 seconds, until well-combined.
Strain into a storage vessel through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding solids. Refrigerate for up to a day before using, or freeze for up to a month.