moquecas are associated with the Afro-Brazilian cuisine of Bahia in the minds of most people, there are numerous regional variations on the moqueca theme in traditional Brazilian cuisine. For example, the state that is immediately south of Bahia, Espírito Santo, has its own way to make a moqueca - the liquid for the stew is made from tomatoes rather than from coconut milk and dendê oil as is done in Bahia.
The one thing that most moquecas do have in common is that they are cooked and served in a deep bowl of some sort, often clay, as they are normally rather liquid, soupy stews. However, there is one regional style of moqueca that dispenses with the deep bowl. In fact it dispenses with a serving dish of any type. Traditional paulista (from São Paulo) moquecas are served wrapped up in banana leaves, creating individual packages to be opened by diners at the table.
In the recipe archives of Fazenda Capoava, 100 km. from the city of São Paulo, there is a hand-written 19th century recipe for just such a moqueca. As part of her project of recreating recipes from the ranch's archives for use in the current-day restaurant at Fazenda Capoava, chef Heloísa Bacellar updated the old recipe for modern kitchens and modern cooks. The result - the recipe below - now has a place on the Fazenda Capoava menu.
Note: The recipe calls for the moqueca to be wrapped in banana-leaf parcels for cooking and serving. French or frozen banana leaves can often be found in Latin American and Asian food markets in metropolitan areas in North America or Europe. If you can't source banana leaves, the packages can be formed from aluminum foil, though some of their tropical charm will necessarily be lost. The same stores are good sources for farinha, also known as manioc flour, or cassava flour. This is essential to the dish and shouldn't be substituted with other types of flour.
RECIPE - São Paulo-style Moqueca (Moqueca Paulista)
1 free-range chicken (about 2-3 lbs), in serving pieces, with giblets, or the same quantity of chicken pieces
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
2 Tbsp butter
4 very ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
12 sprigs Italian parsley
2 cups manioc flour (farinha)
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
2 full-sized banana leaves, thawed if purchased frozen (can substitute aluminum foil)
In a large sauce pan, combine the chicken pieces, half of the onion and garlic, the bay leaf, salt to taste and the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken meat is falling off the bone. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve. Bring the cooking liquid back to the boil and cook at high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Reserve.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred it by hand. Reserve.
In a large saucepan melt the butter and when it's hot but not smoking, add the remaining onion and garlic and saute them until they are lightly golden. Then add the tomato, the olives and parsley and the reserved chicken and cooking liquid. Correct for salt and add black pepper to taste. Slowly add the manioc flour, stirring constantly, and cooking over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens into a thick paste that begins to pull away from the sides of the pan when you stir. Remove from the heat and let cool until no more than warm.
Preheat the oven to 375F (200C). Cut the eggs into three thick slices each. Have a large baking dish ready.
Cut the banana leaves into 12 portions, each one about 8 by 8 inches (20 x 20 cm). If using aluminum foil, cut squares of the same size. On each square, put about one 12th of the moqueca mixture in the middle, place one round of egg and a sprig of parsley on top, then close and seal the package (if using banana leave, cut ties from the banana leaves and use them like gift-wrapping ribbons to seal the packages.
Put the packages in the baking dish and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the banana leaves are nicely browned. Place two packages on each plate, serve, and let the diners open their own packages at the table.
Based on material written by Camila Bianchi for Prazeres da Mesa magazine.