Many Brazilian dishes have influences from Portuguese, West African and Native Brazilian cultures. Moqueca is a fish stew (dating back to the 1500s) with two variations: from Bahia (state in the northeast region of Brazil) known as “moqueca baiana” with an African influence, and from Espirito Santo (state in the southeast region) known as “moqueca capixaba” with a Native Brazilian influence. Moqueca baiana uses palm oil (or azeite de dendê) and coconut milk, while moqueca capixaba only uses olive oil; they also use different types of regional fish.
Moqueca can be made with one or a combination of the following: white fish, shrimp, mussels, squid, scallops, crab, and/or lobster. I had an amazing moqueca once in Angra dos Reis (Rio de Janeiro) that combined all of these ingredients. The most popular version is fish and shrimp; or just fish (moqueca de peixe) or shrimp (moqueca de camarão).
The typical pan to cook moqueca is made of black clay and is usually served at the table. Every time I go to Brazil I want to bring one back but I’m always afraid of breaking it during travel. Maybe next time I’ll do less shopping so I can have more room for my moqueca clay pan :-)
About this recipe
My moqueca recipe is a combination of the moqueca baiana and the moqueca capixaba. I use olive oil instead of palm oil, and I use coconut milk. Palm oil is very heavy and has a very unique flavor (only a tiny bit must be used) and I prefer to cook without it; cooking with olive oil makes for a much lighter tasting moqueca. The use of coconut milk gives the moqueca a delicate flavor and creamy consistency which is a wonderful combination with the fish. I have used fresh tomatoes but prefer tomato paste with this recipe when using coconut milk; if not adding coconut milk, then its best to use fresh tomatoes. I have tried different types of white fish for this recipe (since you can’t find the same fish as in Brazil); my favorites for moqueca are red snapper, flounder and tilapia since they are mild and don’t compete with the flavor of the sauce, nor overwhelm the shrimp. I also prefer using parsley instead of cilantro (as most of my dinner guests are not a big fan of cilantro); however, you can use one or the other or a combination of the two, just a little bit is all you need.
Yields: 4 servings
Prep time: approx 20-30 min (depending if using shelled or deveined shrimp)
Cook time: approx 20 min
- 1 lb (453 kg) mild white fish fillet (red snapper, flounder, or tilapia)
- 1/2-3/4 lb (225-350g) raw/uncooked shrimp (the larger the better)
- 1 TBL lime juice
- 2 TBL olive oil
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 small clove of garlic, minced
- ¼ red bell pepper, cut in strips
- ¼ yellow bell pepper, cut in strips
- ¼ green bell pepper, cut in strips
- 2 TBL tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups (350ml) coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Hot sauce (optional)
- 2 tsp parsley (or cilantro; or both)
- Clean fish (and cut fillets into 2-3 pieces) and marinate with lime juice in a bowl. Set aside (in the fridge).
- Note: The lime juice helps the fish firm a bit so it doesn’t fall apart during cooking.
- Clean shrimp and set aside (in the fridge). I use shrimp with shells since they have more flavor.
- Note: To devein, pass a sharp knife along the bottom to slightly cut shrimp so you can clean it. I do the same over the top of the shell (most people don’t) if done carefully, this does not remove the shell. Likewise you can use unshelled, deveined shrimp.
- In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add chopped onions over medium-low heat. Let it cook approx 2 min and add minced garlic. Cook 1 min and add the red, yellow, and green bell pepper strips. Cook another 2 minutes and once onions or garlic start to brown add tomato paste and coconut milk (do not overcook garlic or it will become bitter).
- Note: If using hot sauce, you can add it now (or after Step 5; after fish and shrimp are cooked). The “hotness” of the sauce will develop as it cooks in the tomato-coconut sauce, so be conservative at first, you can always add more later.
- Increase temperature to medium heat. Continue to stir tomato-coconut sauce until hot and carefully add fish fillets (without overlapping if possible). Simmer for 3-5 min until fish starts becoming white in color.
- Note: Use a lid over the pan, allowing a small gap for steam to escape. This will help the fish cook faster.
- Add the shrimp carefully over and around the fish fillets, use a lid over the pan and simmer another 2-5 minutes (depending on size of shrimp and whether they are shelled).
- Season to taste with salt and pepper (and hot sauce if desired). Add chopped parsley (and/or cilantro) and serve.
- Note: Be careful when serving as fish fillets will be very delicate and easily break apart. Use a large serving spoon to serve whole pieces of fish.
This dish is served with long-grain white rice. It is delicious and very delicate in flavor. I hope you enjoy it!