Thursday, December 1, 2011

RECIPE - Fish Moqueca (Moqueca de Peixe)

The bright orange palm oil dendê, featured in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, is closely connected in most Brazilians' minds to the cooking styles of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, where African cultural traditions have survived the longest and are the most vibrant of any place in Brazil.

One of the most characteristic cooking techniques in Bahia is called moqueca, and there are hundreds if not thousands of moquecas to be found in Bahia. One of Brazil's most authoritative dictionaries, Houaiss, defines a moqueca as:

a stew of fish, seafood, meat or eggs, made with coconut milk and  dendê oil plus seasonings (cilantro, onion, bell peppers, dried shrimps and chili peppers), cooked preferably in a clay casserole and served in the same dish. [Originally from northeastern Brazil, especially Bahia, but now considered characteristic of Brazilian cuisine in general, being found in various states of Brazil.]
Since the etymology of the word moqueca traces it back to an African word mu'keka meaning "fish chowder" or "fish stew" it's probably true that the first moquecas used fish as their principal ingredient and that other variations followed. So to begin with the beginning, here's a recipe for fish moqueca that comes from Bahia.
RECIPE - Fish Moqueca (Moqueca de Peixe)
Serves 4

2 lb (1 kg) snook, grouper, or other firm, non-flaking white fish, cut into steaks or large chunks
juice of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium tomatoes
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium red bell pepper
1/4 cup firmly-packed chopped cilantro
3 Tbsp dendê oil (click here to read about purchasing and about substitutes)
2 cups coconut milk
Season the fish with the lime juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve, marinading, for 30 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes, the onion, peppers and the cilantro until you have a homogenous but still slightly chunky liquid.

In a large frying pan, head the dendê oil, then add the mixture from the blender and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is hot and bubbling. Add the fish, covering the pieces with the tomato mixture and cook for one or two minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the fish is completely cooked and the sauce has thickened.

Serve in a decorative bowl, preferably of unglazed earthenware, garnished with cilantro leaves, a few rings of onions and bell peppers if desired. Accompany with white rice and a good, preferably homestyle hot sauce.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora.


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