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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285 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Eva

    Can’t buy that in a can! I added finely shredded carrots for a delicate sweetness and a few black beans, just seemed like a good fit.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Maggie

    Given all the alterations needed (add lemon juice, add more paprika, add more cayenne), this is not a great recipe. I’ve made this dish before following a different recipe which had the right vegetable and seasoning portions included (but I couldn’t find it now…). Also suggest to add fish near the end so it doesn’t get cooked too long.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Jess

    This is a fantastic recipe!! Arguably one of my top three dishes I’ve ever made. Yes, ever!

    I made the following modifications that I would repeat next time:
    – Used 2 whole bell peppers
    – Added 8 oz of shrimp (this would be delicious with other seafood too)
    – Added way more paprika
    – Added about ~1 tsp. of cayenne pepper, oregano, and basil
    – Added more lime juice plus the juice of one lemon
    – Added 3/4 cup of farro to make it a bit more hearty
    – Swapped the fresh tomatoes for a 28oz can (I’m sure fresh is really good too)
    – Added 2 cups of chicken stock (I’m sure fish stock would be even better but I couldn’t find any at Whole Foods)

    Next time I would:
    – Add zest of 1-2 limes
    – Maybe try adding other vegetables like mushrooms

  4. viv

    Fantastic. I used fresh cod and added quite a bit of extra lime and chili peppers to give it some kick. I also doubled the onion and pepper quantities. Seemed a little skimpy.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Krystal Barreira

    This has become mine and my moms favorite soup! I had most of the stuff to make it so we just tried it one day, not expecting to like it, but OMG so good. I put lots of extra onions and peppers in it. For those in the Midwest where grocery store selection is really sad, I just found, at Schnucks, a little turning shelf near the vegetable area that has Hungarian Paprika. I bought a huge container of Spanish sweet paprika for about $10 off ebay and it has such a good fragrance and taste like no paprika I’ve ever tasted. And for those unsure about the coconut milk being chunky or solidified and has no or next to no coconut smell, it was still good in my stew and not soured. I just add my dry rice and water into the stew as I cook it and it becomes like an amazing jambalaya. I’ve doubled and tripled this recipe just fine. I love it with cod and bay scallops, which is easy to get frozen in the Midwest and fairly cheap. I’ve tried shrimp in it, but didn’t care for the texture, but the addition of bay scallops is a must! And for those of you that don’t like spice, a pinch of red pepper flakes added flavor but no hotness.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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