Cooking with Carly: Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)

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This is a new series where we cook with friends and learn the secrets to making their favorite dishes.

My family always jokes that my sister thinks she’s Brazilian because of her many trips to Brazil and her affinity for Brazilian culture. Aside from speaking Portuguese and playing capoeira, she also cooks a mean feijoada and pão de queijo, as you might have noticed from her earlier guest post. I asked what she recommended as a traditional Brazilian dish for the end of Lent, and as usual, she did not disappoint. She suggested that we make moqueca, a hearty fish stew from the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil, a region known for its mix of Yoruba, indigenous, and Portuguese cuisine. Instead of having her write her own guest post, I thought it would be fun to document her cooking process so you can follow her recipe every step of the way.

In Bahia, Sexta Feira Santa, or Good Friday, is a bigger deal than Easter. Most Bahians respect the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on this day and celebrate among family by preparing a feast of fish and seafood cooked with azeite de dendê, or palm oil. The main course is usually moqueca de peixe, or fish stew, which I would dare say is a Bahian culinary masterpiece.

The key ingredient to moqueca is azeite de dendê which gives the stew its customary red coloring and strong, savory flavor. You can find it in most international grocery stores that carry Nigerian food. Why Nigerian food? Because the city of Salvador in Bahia was the largest port of the transatlantic slave trade in the western hemisphere. The majority of Afro-Brazilians are descendants of Nigeria and Benin, and Yoruba influences run deep in Bahian culture and gastronomy.

If you have a weak stomach, I would recommend using this oil sparingly, as it’s known to make tourists sick because it’s difficult to digest. However, there is an antidote –drinking coca cola with moqueca will help your stomach break down the palm oil and avoid future problems (I don’t know how it works but it does!). Some other advice for cooking with this thick and sticky oil is to wear an apron, wash dishes sullied with dendê oil separate from other dishes (and use a different sponge), and store in a container that you don’t mind dyeing red. On that note, let’s get cooking!

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Here’s the list of ingredients that you’ll need: 1 lb white fish, preferably halibut or catfish; ½ lb shrimp, peeled and deveined; 1 cup coconut milk, ¼-1/2 cup dendê oil; 1 large onion, sliced into rounds; 3 tomatoes, sliced into rounds; 1 large green bell pepper, sliced into rounds, 1-2 serrano peppers, depending on how much spice you can handle (we didn’t add any because my sister can’t eat peppers); salt and pepper to taste (I estimated around 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper); and ¼ cup of cilantro for garnish.

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First, we heated up around 2 tablespoons of dendê oil in a cast iron skillet. We set the stove to medium heat and waited until the oil was hot, then put half of the onions into the pan.

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We added the halibut to the pan and arranged the shrimps around the halibut…

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Then drizzled on more dendê oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper.

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We layered the rest of the onions on top of the fish…

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Followed by the green bell pepper (and serrano peppers, if you’re using them)…..

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Then the tomatoes. We poured the rest of the dendê oil over the vegetables and fish, covered it with a lid, and let it cook for 15 minutes.

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When the fish was cooked through, we added in the coconut milk and mixed it lightly into the juices already in the pan, being careful not to break up the fish or vegetables. We turned off the heat and scarfed it down almost immediately. Moqueca is usually accompanied by garlic rice and farofa, crispy cassava flour that’s used like a condiment or side dish. Both are quite simple to prepare and only take a few minutes, so you can cook them as the moqueca is simmering away. The recipes can be found below. We hope you enjoy this traditional and hearty dish on Good Friday or at your next get together.
Bom apetite!

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Moqueca de Peixe (Yield: 5 servings)

Ingredients:
For moqueca:
1 pound halibut, cut into large chunks
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup coconut milk
1/4-1/2 cup dendê oil
1 big onion, sliced into rounds
3 tomatoes, sliced into rounds
1 green bell pepper, sliced into rounds
1-2 serrano peppers
1/4 cup cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
For garlic rice:
4 cups water
2 cups long grain white rice
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
For farofa:
1 cup farinha
2 tablespoons dendê oil
½ tomato
¼ onion
Cilantro for garnish

Directions:

  1. Coat a pan with 2 tablespoons of dendê oil and heat on medium heat.
  2. Put half of the onions in the pan and top with the shrimp and halibut. Drizzle 2 more tablespoons of dendê oil over the fish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Layer the rest of the onions, serrano peppers, bell pepper, and tomato on top. Pour the remaining dendê oil over the tomatoes.
  3. Cover the pan and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
  4. When the fish is cooked, add the coconut milk and mix it in lightly. Turn off heat and serve immediately. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice and farofa.

Additional Notes

To make garlic rice: Wash 2 cups of rice and add 4 cups of water. Add in 3 whole garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook in a rice cooker or on the stove on low heat for 20-30 minutes.

To make farofa: Heat up 2 tablespoons of dende oil in a small pan on low heat and add in onions. Saute onions for 2 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add farinha and fluff it with a fork. Sprinkle with salt, then add in tomatoes and some cilantro. Continue to fluff with a fork until the farofa thickens and becomes chunky, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over rice or as a side.

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