Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueco) is colorful, zippy, and just plain delicious! Full disclosure, though. I am completely unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine, so I cannot vouch for this recipe’s authenticity. What I can say, is that this simple-to-prepare fish stew is bright, beautiful and relatively inexpensive to make. The fish (pretty much any firm fish, but whitefish, halibut, sea bass and cod are particularly good) is simmered in a fragrant sauce of coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, peppers and lime.
As with many dishes, and this one is no exception, there are many versions and variations. This recipe for Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca) originates from Salvador, a bustling coastal city in Brazil, north of Rio. The influences are African, stemming from Brazil’s long history of bringing 4 million slaves to the country over a 300-year period. You can see the African culture in everything from carnival to samba, food and religion. Fifty percent of the Brazilian population now self identifies as Black or mixed race.
Paired with rice and a simple green salad, Moqueca comes together quickly, making it a perfect weeknight meal.
Yield: 4 servings
1.5 pounds of firm white fish (look for thicker cuts)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Two limes, zest and juice
2 Tablespoons coconut or olive oil (Brazilian red palm oil, if available. I used coconut oil)
1 onion (any kind) finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, serrano or other chile, finely diced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin (you could also use the whole seeds)
1 cup fish or chicken stock (I used chicken)
1.5 cups tomatoes, diced (fresh tomatoes are best)
14-ounce can coconut milk (liquids and solids) Do not use “lite” coconut milk.
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, flat-leaf parsley or scallions
Additional squeeze of lime
Rinse and pat dry the fish. Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place the fish in a glass or stainless steel bowl and add the 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 of the zest and 2 Tablespoons of the lime juice. Gently massage into the fish and set it aside.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and additional 1 teaspoon of salt. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrot, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno and cook for 4 to 5 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste, spices and stock. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Now add the tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently on medium low until the carrots are tender, about 8 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and taste, adding more salt if necessary. (I used unsalted stock, so ended up using a 1.5 teaspoons of salt.) Nestle the fish chunks into the sauce and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through, spooning the sauce over the fish occasionally. How long it takes to cook will depend on the thickness of the fish, how long it sat in the salt and lime juice and how well-cooked you like it. As with ceviche, the salt and lime juice begin to “cook” the fish in the brine. I like my fish to be cooked through but not dry. Check it after about 8 minutes.
Serve over rice and add the garnish and the remaining lime zest and juice. Now enjoy!