A new one on me, a Brazilian moqueca (pronounced “mo-KEH-kah”) is a fish stew made with firm white fish, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and coconut milk. While thumbing through our latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated, the moqueca recipe for Brazilian Shrimp and Fish Stew drew my attention. Doesn’t it seem like every culture with a coastline has their own version of a seafood stew? The French have bouillabaise, the Portuguese bacalhoada (haven’t tried this one either), New England chowder, Southern gumbo and San Francisco cioppino.
As exotic as it sounds, it’s easy and you probably have most of the ingredients already in your pantry—although you’ll want to get fresh fish. Including prep, the total time involved is less than an hour, so you could even consider making it on a weekday. The combination of rich coconut milk, briny seafood, bright citrus, and savory vegetables produces a broth that’s full-bodied, lush, and vibrant—a particularly complex concoction compared with stews based solely on dairy, tomatoes, or broth.
Well we were ready for a bright, fresh, and filling version of a traditional Brazilian seafood stew. Here, cod and shrimp make for a nice balance of flavor and texture, and both are easy to find. To balance the richness and sweetness of the coconut milk with the bright, fresh flavor of the aromatics, blend the onion, the tomatoes, and a portion of the cilantro in the food processor until you have the texture of a slightly chunky salsa, which adds body to the stew.
The key here is to gently and evenly cook the delicate fish and shrimp by bringing the stew to a full boil, and then add the seafood and remove the pot from the heat. Letting food cook in residual heat provides insurance against overcooking. To finish our moqueca, we added more cilantro and a couple of tablespoons of homemade pepper sauce, which elevated the stew with its bright, vinegary tang.
An enameled cast iron pot such as a braiser works best because they are fabulous for retaining heat, a critical factor when cooking the seafood—which BTW, came out perfectly. A braiser is a wide, heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. It has shallow sides that are usually sloped, and the domed lid continuously circulates steam to lock in moisture and flavor.
Serve with rice or with crusty bread.
Brazilian Shrimp and Fish Stew
- 4 pickled hot cherry pepper (3 ounces)
- ½ onion, chopped coarse
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon sugar
- 1 pound large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, and tails removed
- 1 pound skinless cod fillets (¾ to 1 inch thick), cut into 1½-inch pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 onion, chopped coarse
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
FOR THE PEPPER SAUCE:
- Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Season with salt to taste and transfer to separate bowl. Rinse out processor bowl.
FOR THE STEW:
- Toss shrimp and cod with garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in bowl. Set aside.
- Process onion, tomatoes and their juice, and ¼ cup cilantro in food processor until finely chopped and mixture has texture of pureed salsa, about 30 seconds.
- Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add red and green bell peppers and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add onion-tomato mixture and ½ teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until puree has reduced and thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes (pot should not be dry).
- Increase heat to high, stir in coconut milk, and bring to boil (mixture should be bubbling across entire surface).
- Add seafood mixture and lime juice and stir to evenly distribute seafood, making sure all pieces are submerged in liquid. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let stand until shrimp and cod are opaque and just cooked through, 15 minutes.
- Gently stir in 2 tablespoons pepper sauce and remaining ½ cup cilantro, being careful not to break up cod too much. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing remaining pepper sauce separately.