Moqueca – Brazilian Fish Stew

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Brazilian moqueca, a fish stew made with firm white fish, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and coconut milk.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

It seems like every culture with a coastline has their version of a seafood stew. The French have bouillabaise, the Portuguese bacalhoada, New England chowder 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.

Video! How to Make Moqueca

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 website, we’re dealing with ingredients we can get here. True Bahian moqueca is made with a fish caught off the coast of northern Brazil.

Moqueca

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 (Ole Ola Brasil!) if you have a favorite moqueca recipe, please tell us about it the comments.

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Moqueca – Brazilian Fish Stew Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

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 pounds 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 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin 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 tablespoon 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 tablespoon extra virgin 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 Coat fish with garlic and lime juice: 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 Make rice for serving with soup: 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.

3 Start cooking the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, onion greens: 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.

4 Layer vegetables with fish, add coconut milk: 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.

5 Simmer, cook, adjust seasonings: 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.

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Links:

Salmon Moqueca here on Simply Recipes

Fascinating account on the origins of moqueca

 

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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275 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Laura

    I love this fish stew, I learned from Brazilian friends of mine. They do add at the end, a tablespoon of Palm Oil. Please use good palm oil that has been sustainably harvested. It adds a depth to the stew. The paprika that I got in Brazil is really a food coloring, not really a taste. I never use it myself. Add in shrimp and or any other seafood is highly recommended.
    Over the Brazilian rice is amazing. It took me years to get the rice right but so worth all the time and energy.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Judith

    This was excellent and very easy. I was going to stick to the recipe, but when I went to get the fish, the store had fresh ears of corn so I added some.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Andrea

    Yummy. I was looking for a dairy free chowder due to lactose intolerance and found this. Nice kick and the veggies in this also a nice change from what I’m used to in fish stews. To make it for someone who doesn’t like much spice would you just decrease the paprika?

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
  4. Lourdes

    Absolutely delicious! I made this dish for the first time Everyone raved Even better the next day Bravo!

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Nicole burgos

    I made it today for the 1st time and my family loved it. My fiance licked his plate lol. I added shrimp in mines. It will definitely be in my recipes box. It was really really good.❤❤

    xxxxxyyyyy

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