Moqueca – Brazilian Fish Stew

Soup and StewLentenBrazilianGluten-Free

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

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.

More from Elise

251 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Richard

    This is one of the best recipe I had. You can use almost what you want as fish. I love cod and mine was caught last year and frozen with the skin. I added shrimps and goberge. The process on how to cook the stew is the most important you can play with the spices and fishes. Excellent

  2. Dale

    I have made this almost a dozen times! It is now my favorite ‘go-to’ recipe for celebrations. I mix and add seafood, very easy recipe to remember and to play with. Thank you from all my friends and family.

  3. Kirk

    I’ve made this twice. Both times it was delicious. The first time I used cod and fresh shrimp and made it exactly like the recipe suggested. It was really good! The Second time I made it was tonight. I put a different spin on it and treated it like it was Brazilian gumbo. I started by sautéing some diced bacon and diced hot smoked sausage. I set it aside until I finished sautéing the vegetables. I also included two diced, fresh jalapeño peppers. Once the veggies were sautéed I added back the bacon and sausage mixture. I mixed it up and simmered it like directed. I finished the meal like the recipe said. This time I used redfish and black drum (my boys and I caught them) I had previously baked. Adding the bacon, sausage, Jalapeños, and Redfish/black drum totally changed the flavor. I love that this recipe is so simple yet you get such depth of flavors from all the fresh ingredients. This is a big hit!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Mia

    My boyfriend is Brazilian and said this was his favorite meal I’ve ever made! (Also that it tastes just as good as the moqueca in Bahia, which I doubt but that was nice to hear haha). He has requested it weekly. For anyone looking for clarity on whether to add the garlic/salt/lime juice fish marinade to the final dish, I did and it turned out well.
    There is room for variation in this recipe if you want to stray from the original (although it isn’t necessary). I could not find palm oil, nor sweet Hungarian paprika, so I just used regular paprika. I also added some cherry tomatoes, wild ramps I had in place of spring onions, and frozen shrimp with the fish. As the description states, cod is not quite firm enough and it mostly flakes apart when stirred, but I didn’t find that it affected the taste. In Brazil the fish usually keep shape in larger chunks/portions, so if you can use a firmer fish it will appear more like authentic
    Looking forward to eating this again & again! Thank you!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Whit

    This was great! I’ve never made anything like this before and it was very tasty. The kids didn’t love it because it was different…but I definitely making again…they will get used to it. :)

    xxxxxyyyyy

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