Moqueca – Brazilian Fish Stew

It seems like every culture with a coastline has their version of a seafood stew. The French have bouillabaise, the Portuguese bacalhoada, New England “chowdah” and San Francisco cioppino. In Brazil, they make moqueca (pronounced “mo-KEH-kah”), a stew made with fish, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and in the northern state of Bahia, coconut milk. My first encounter with moqueca was a salmon version of the stew prepared by Brazilian blogger Fernanda of Chucrute com Salsicha. So good! We love making fish stew, but had never thought to use a base of coconut milk. Since then, every Brazilian I’ve met, when the conversation turns to food (as it invariably does), their eyes light up at the mention of moqueca.

A few words about this recipe. First, it’s easy. As exotic as it may sound, you probably have most of the ingredients already in your pantry (you’ll want to get fresh fish), and with prep, making rice, the total time involved is less than an hour. Second, since this is an American blog, we’re dealing with ingredients we can get here. True Bahian moqueca is made with a fish caught off the coast of northern Brazil. In our case, we’ll want to use a firm white fish. I used cod for this batch, which is barely firm enough. Halibut would hold up better. You can also add shrimp or other shell fish to this stew. Palm oil is traditionally used in making moqueca, but it’s hard to come by here, so we are using olive oil. Finally, adjust the seasonings to taste! If it doesn’t seem flavorful enough to you, you need to add more salt. And probably a little more lime or lemon juice and paprika too.

To any Brazilians who might be reading this blog (Olé Brasil!) if you have a favorite moqueca recipe, please tell us about it the comments.

Traditional moqueca uses palm oil. If you can find it (I checked three stores here and was not able to locate any) add just a tablespoon to the stew along with the coconut milk.

Ingredients

Soup

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod, rinsed in cold water, pin bones removed, cut into large portions
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped spring onion, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
  • 1/4 cup green onion greens, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
  • 2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp paprika (Hungarian sweet)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk

Rice

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 3/4 cups boiling water (check your rice package for the appropriate ratio of liquid to rice for the type of rice you are using)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method

1 Place fish pieces in a bowl, add the minced garlic and lime juice so that the pieces are well coated. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Keep chilled while preparing the rest of the soup.

2 If you are planning on serving the soup with rice, start on the rice. Bring a couple cups of water to a boil. Heat one Tbsp of olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Add the chopped 1/2 onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the raw white rice and stir to coat completely with the oil, onions, and garlic. Add the boiling water. (The amount depends on your brand of rice, check the package. If no amounts are given, add 1 3/4 cup of water for every cup of rice.) Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes, after which, remove from heat until ready to serve with the soup.

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3 Back to the soup. In a large covered pan (such as a Dutch oven), coat the bottom with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. (At least a teaspoon of salt.) Cook for a few minutes longer, until the bell pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and onion greens. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

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3 Use a large spoon to remove about half of the vegetables (you'll put them right back in). Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the fish. Arrange the fish pieces on the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the fish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

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4 Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may need to add more salt (likely), lime or lemon juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or with crusty bread.

Main Ingredients

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