Piece of life
Being married to a Brazilian allowed me to discover the gastronomy of this country that I didn’t know at all before. The culinary habits in Brazil are very different from the French, and it took me a little time to appreciate it. However, some dishes immediately conquered me like the famous moqueca [there are a few others, I’ll tell you about them soon].
About the Moqueca
This is a typical dish from the state of Bahia (in the south of the Nordeste region), known for its architecture, culture and gastronomy. The Afro-Brazilian culture is strongly represented there, especially in its capital Salvador, through which slaves arrived from Africa. The origin of moqueca is still a matter of debate, but what is certain is that it was influenced by African cultures through the use of palm oil [azeite de dendê]. You can make a very good fish stew without this oil, but then it won’t be a moqueca. This ingredient is the essential element for a real moqueca baiana. You can find it very easily in African grocery stores. Although I am strongly against the mass use of this oil in the food industry, its use in traditional dishes seems reasonable to me [for more details see below].
About palm oil
Palm oil has been the subject of much debate for several years, due to its mass use by the food industry [for health and environmental reasons]. The palm oil used in moqueca is the raw oil, which has a characteristic dark orange/red color and a very pronounced flavour. This oil is widely used in African and Asian cuisine. Palm oil used in the food industry is refined and its physical and nutritional properties are greatly modified.
Moqueca is traditionally prepared in a terracotta pan called “panela de barro”. I’m lucky to have one [actually I have two] but you probably won’t have this pan, no problem, you can prepare the moqueca in a standard pot.
Moqueca is mainly made with firm fish [to prevent the fish from falling apart during cooking] but you can also make it with shrimp or even chicken. I mainly use cod or tilapia [fish that I can easily find in Canada], combined with shrimp. Feel free to use other fish.
Brazilian fish stew (Moqueca)
- Casserole (terracotta if you have one)
- 4 fillets of firm-fleshed fish
- shrimps (optional)
- 400 ml coconut milk
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 peppers
- 2 tbsp palm oil
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 lime
- olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- chilli pepper to taste
- fresh coriander to taste
- Place the fish fillets in a dish, pour the lemon juice and garlic. Leave to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Seed the tomatoes and peppers and cut them into strips. Slice the onion thinly.
- In the saucepan heat a drizzle of olive oil. Fry the onion for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and peppers. Fry for 5 minutes.
- Add the fish fillets and cover with coconut milk.
- Add palm oil and coriander, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Serve with fresh coriander.