Aguachile means “chile water” in Spanish. This Mexican dish is comprised of shrimp submerged in seasoned liquid rich with lime juice, chili peppers, cilantro, salt and sliced cucumber. Sometimes, other vegetables are added.

If this sounds a lot like ceviche, another popular Spanish dish, that’s because it is. One major difference is that ceviche is marinated 15-20 minutes before being eaten, whereas aguachile is simply tossed in the lime mixture and served almost immediately.

Brief History of Aguachile

According to Eater magazine, the first aguachile probably had nothing to do with seafood. Long before the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, indigenous communities carried dried meat from the inland hills of modern-day southeastern Sinaloa to the Pacific Coast. There, they traded with local civilizations for salt, which was mixed with chiles growing in the forest and water from one of the many local rivers.

These ingredients constituted an early version of pre-Hispanic salsa. That dish became known for its primary ingredients, agua and chile.

What’s Unique About Aguachlle?

The shrimp that fueled Sinoloan aguachile’s rising popularity are caught locally offshore in the Gulf of California. Many people migrate from the interior to take advantage of related industries, such as fishing, the sale of vegetables and chilies used to make the dish or the preparation of the dish for sale to the hungry public.

Preparation of Aguachile and Variants

Aquachile is basically a spicy variant of ceviche that’s made with shrimp. It’s important to keep the shellfish chilled since it won’t have time to cool while marinating. Although served cold, this dish packs in the heat with cilantro, chile peppers and red onions.

Scallops are rich, creamy and voluptuous when cooked and even more delicious when made into a piquant aguachile. You can add to substitute raw squid or clams if you aren’t a shrimp or scallop fan. Some variants call for chicken diced into tiny slices and added to the flavorful sauce.

Vegans don’t have to miss out on all the fun. Substitute cauliflower for seafood and you can enjoy all the spicy goodness without feeling guilty or worrying about the health risk of eating raw seafood cooked only in lime juice.

Aguachile has come a long way from humble beginnings and is now enjoyed all over the world — but there’s nothing to stop you from enjoying it in its native Sinaloa should you find yourself in the area.