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Building Blocks of Charleston

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Building Blocks of Charleston Cuisine is a series that celebrates the connection between the Lowcountry and its vibrant food scene. Each week features a dish, restaurant, or chef that’s played a role in keeping the region’s culinary history alive.

Delaney Oyster House: Snapper ceviche

Delaney Oyster House

Snapper ceviche is a popular dish at Delaney Oyster House. 

For Shamil Velazquez, it all started with grandmother. Not just his own grandmother, whom he watched cook in her kitchen while growing up in Puerto Rico, but also Lao Gan Ma — a Chinese chili sauce that translates into “Old Grandmother,” and which always filled the house with chili and spice aromas whenever it was used.

“It is a condiment that I always have in my pantry at home, and love putting on eggs, rice, noodles, anything, really,” said Velazquez, the executive chef at Delaney Oyster House downtown. “I thought it would be great for ceviche because of its fat content and deep flavors.”

The end result became the South Carolina snapper ceviche, which combines Lowcountry and Asian influences to create a memorable dish at the 115 Calhoun St. restaurant. With respect to Old Grandmother, Velazquez wanted to make the dish his own, which he accomplished through the use of ingredients like ginger, chilies, scallions and lime. From there it was just a matter of finding the right fish, which proved to be snapper.

“I researched different recipes and techniques, and there was a lot of trial and error until we found the best balance for a low- to medium-activity fish,” he said. “When the team makes it at the restaurant, the entire building picks up the smells of chilies, ginger, garlic and warm spices.”

Ceviche, a dish in which seafood “cooks” in the acid of citrus juice, has been eaten for centuries in South America, although it didn’t begin appearing on menus in the United States until the 1980s. For a region like Charleston with abundant fresh seafood, it was only a matter of time before ceviche caught on — and now it’s a mainstay, particularly of the restaurant scene downtown.

Since ceviche hinges on having the freshest catch available, Velazquez procures local snapper from Oyster Point Seafood. The ceviche sits in a rich sauce called “chili crisp,” which brings together spices, ginger and chilies to balance out the sweetness of the fish.

“You want to enhance the fish with simple flavors, and not hide it,” Velazquez said. “There are many different techniques to making ceviche, and we at Delaney have different preparations depending on the fish and our end goal. Overall the approach is keep it simple, use the best fish you can source daily, and keep balance in mind.”

Building Blocks of Charleston Cuisine is a series that celebrates the connection between the Lowcountry and its vibrant food scene. Each week features a dish, restaurant, or chef that’s played a role in keeping the region’s culinary history alive.