Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moqueca Baiana

Recently, I was looking for a new fish dish to make for my beautiful wife, Clare.  I wanted a recipe that was easy, but, at the same time, was interesting enough to grab my attention.  More specifically, I was looking for a dish from another country, one which has a little story behind it.  I found that dish ... and it comes out of Brazilian cuisine.

The dish is called Moqueca or Muqueca.  Although generally referred to as a "seafood stew, " many recipes actually produce a fish stew.  The recipes call for the use of white fleshed fish as the principal ingredient and, inevitably, at the end, they suggest that as "variations," one could use or add lobster shrimp, scallops, or other seafood. 

What makes this dish fascinating is that there are two versions -- Moqueca Capixaba and Moqueca Baiana -- and each of the versions is a nod to the different influences upon Brazilian cuisine.  The Capixaba version is made principally in Southern Brazil, in the state of Espirito Santo.  This version features the influences of Brazil's indigenous peoples.  It is the simpler of the two Moquecas, with fish roasted on banana leaves over hot coals.  By contrast, the Moqueca Baiana is the version made in the northern state of Bahia.  This version is heavily influenced by the African populations in Brazil.  It uses palm oil and a base of coconut milk, which create a flavorful broth for the mixture of vegetables (onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and chiles) and a nice buttery flavor that complements the fish. 

I decided to make Moqueca Baiana, although I changed the recipe in a couple small respects.  First, I did not have any dende oil (or palm oil), so I just omitted that ingredient.  Second, I did not have any the requisite chiles.  The recipe calls for malagueta peppers, which are fiery, red peppers that are widely used in Portuguese-influenced cuisines, which includes the cuisines of Brazil and Mozambique.  The peppers actually go by separate names, depending upon their maturity when they are picked.  If the peppers are a small size when picked, they are known as malaguetinha in Brazil or "piri-piri" in Portugal.  If the peppers are allowed to mature and reach a larger size, they are called malaguetão in Brazil or malagueta in Portugal.  Given the recipe calls for malagueta peppers, I presume that the larger peppers are supposed to be used.  However, I did not have any fresh or dried malagueta peppers, I only had ground piri piri peppers.  I decided that I wanted to use fresh chiles and keep the heat in check since I was making the dish for my wife.  I went with a couple of serrano chiles, which have a lower rating on the Scoville Scale than the malagueta peppers.  I also chose serrano chiles because I thought that the diced chiles would add a nice green fleck to the combination of red tomatoes, orange bell pepper and yellow bell pepper.  For once, I was thinking of the presentation.

Finally, the dish calls for "white fleshed fish."  This general description covers a wide range of fish, including cod, haddock, hake, and pollock.  The local store had limited options for white fish, offering only hake.  Generally speaking, populations of hake in some areas, such as the in the northern Atlantic Ocean, are doing okay, while they are overfished and struggling in other areas, such as in the Atlantic Ocean around the Carolinas.  Of course, the store did not specify where the fish was caught; instead, it just stuck a yellow fish sticker on the sign.  I begrudgingly bought some hake, which worked especially well with this dish. 

Recipe from Whats4Eats
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds of white-fleshed fish, cut into chunks
2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of oil
2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, diced
1-3 chile (malagueta) peppers
3 cups of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 cups of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of dende oil (optional)

1.  Marinate the fish.  Toss the fish, lime juice and salt together in a large, non-reactive bowl and set aside to marinate for about 30 minutes.

2.  Saute the onions, peppers and tomatoes.  Heat the oil in a medium sized pot over medium flame.  Add the onions and peppers.  Saute until hte onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and chile peppers, saute for an additional minute.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes more to cook them down.

3.  Add the coconut milk and fish.   Stir in the coconut milk and the fish with its marinadse.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.  Adjust the seasoning.  Stir in the dende oil.  


If you are looking for a good pairing, one website suggests an oaked Chardonnay wine (that is, a Chardonnay that has been aged in oaked barrels) pairs well with dishes that use coconut milk.  I have reviewed one Chardonnay that was aged in oak barrels, which may go with this recipe (although I have to admit that I am not sure):

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard -- Chardonnay (2010)
100% Chardonnay
Comus, Maryland, USA
Flavors of pear and apple


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