Late last year this journal brought us northern California’s signature seafood stew, and today we see how the southern hemisphere draws wonderfully from its own bounty. Specifically, this entry brings moqueca, a creation perfected in northeast Brazil. Cook’s Illustrated highlighted the recipe in its March/April 2018 issue, providing a splendid excuse to visit South American cuisines again. Just missed carnival, though.
Moqueca is a tomato-based fish stew, a trait it shares with the cioppino of a few months back, though their paths diverge widely and deliciously from there. To begin, moqueca is more focused in the proteins it selects, choosing only shrimp and cod.
Shrimp is a natural for a tropical sea-oriented cuisine, but cod? It seems an odd choice, until, that is, one considers Brazil’s long association with Portugal and the prominence the fish enjoys in the latter’s cooking. Thus, a north Atlantic catch finds its way into bowls along the jungled coast.
Coconut milk, and generous amounts at that, gives moqueca a distinctive Brazilian ambiance. Creamy and sweet, the milk enrobes the fish in a silky South American pillow. Lime juice adds an additional tropical twist, amplifying the stew’s Brazilian character.
Another unique touch is the pepper sauce usually served with moqueca and pictured this week almost directly above the soup. Spicy and briny, the sauce resembles the salsa more prominent farther north in Latin America. A bit of the condiment already laces the stew, and more is available to diners to increase at will their individual portion’s hotness.
Pickled cherry peppers are the sauce’s main component, lending it, traditionally, a red color. However, only green and yellow-ish pickled peppers were available when this week’s recipe went into production, leading to a novel shade. Despite that, the taste is the same.
Both now and last December brought us tomato broths laden with seafood, though the similarities end there. This week it’s Atlantic-based, Brazilian and tropical, as distinct as Bahia is from San Francisco.
(Brazilian Shrimp and Fish Stew)
For the pepper sauce:
- 4 pickled hot cherry peppers (3 ounces)
- 1/2 onion, chopped coarsely (*1)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
For the stew:
- 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 pound skinless cod filets, cut into 1-and-1/2-inch pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- 1 onion, chopped coarsely (*1)
- 1 14.5-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 bell peppers – one red, one green – stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 14-ounce can of coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
For the pepper sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour contents into a separate bowl and rinse out processor.
In a bowl, toss the shrimp and cod with the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and set it aside.
In the cleaned food processor, blend for about 30 seconds the tomatoes (and their sauce), the onion and 1/4 cup of the cilantro.
In a stockpot set over medium-high heat, pour in the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the peppers and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the onion-tomato mixture and add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens ever-so-slightly, about 3 minutes.
Increase the heat to high, and stir in the coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then add the seafood mixture and the lime juice. Stir lightly to ensure all seafood is submerged. Cover pot and turn off heat. Let pot cool, still covered, for about 15 minutes.
Uncover and add two tablespoons of the pepper sauce, and the remaining 1/2 cup of cilantro. Gently stir these in, being careful not to break up cod. Season with salt and pepper and serve, passing the remaining pepper sauce separately.
1 – Naturally, I substituted shallots, one shallot for the pepper sauce, and two for the stew.