My Citizens – few things are as toothsomely satisfying to the Pasha of Pescatarians as a classic seafood stew, particularly one as rich with shrimp as this classic Brazilian recipe for moqueca! The silken addition of coconut milk combined with a dazzling array of spicing thaumaturgy as only the people from the state of Bahia seem capable makes for a dish satisfying on every imaginable level. While the creation of a flavorful shrimp stock and a complex blend of spices is necessary, both can be made far in advance, making this dish a quick one indeed to throw together – but what a taste tsunami awaits you and your guests with this one-pot meal!
Moqueca (depending on the dialect, also spelled muqueca) is a Brazilian seafood stew enjoyed in several variations throughout the country. It is traditionally made by slowly cooking in a terracotta pot known as a cassole. Moqueca can be made with shrimp or fish as a base with tomatoes, onions, garlic, lime and coriander. The name moqueca comes from the term ‘mu’keka’ in the indigenous Kimbundu language. The full meal set is the fish stew, a stew of banana da terra (plantains stewed in the same manner as the fish), a pirão (porridge made from cassava flour), and white rice – each one in its own clay pan.
According to this excerpt on the dish’s history I found at tastingtable.com:
The dish’s exact history is hazy, but general lore is that cooks in Salvador—starting as long as 300 years ago by some accounts—combined local fish from the port with coconut milk, Portuguese refogado (a variation on sofrito) and palm oil brought from Africa to the region through the slave trade to create the dish.
But, “Some people say it was from [even] before that, from the Indians,” who used a similar word for fish cooked in banana leaves, Lima de Luca says. Complicating matters further, he explains, is a similar dish claimed by Spirito Santo, a region further south along Brazil’s coast. “It’s so old that I can’t say if it’s Indian, African or if this started in Bahia or in Spirito Santo. There are too many theories about it,” he says.
There are two primary types of moqueca, each from a different region of Brazil – today, I am sharing the moqueca baiana version with TFD Nation:
Moqueca capixaba is native to the state of Espírito Santo. It is a combination of Brazilian and Portuguese cuisine. It is considered a softer and lighter version of moqueca. Lighter oils, such as extra-virgin olive oil, are used instead of palm oil (as in the Bahian version). Urucum pigment is added, and it is always cooked in a traditional clay pan.
Moqueca capixaba can be made with fish, shrimp, crabs, sea crab or lobsters. The full meal set includes banana da terra (plantain) stew as a side dish as well as pirão and white rice – each one in its own clay pan. The dish is usually seasoned with onion, tomatoes, coriander, and chives. It is usually accompanied by pirão, which is the paste made with cassava root flour (“farinha de mandioca”) and the gravy from the stew.
Capixaba pans, are made with black clay and glazed with mangrove tree sap. After being shaped and fired, sap is re-applied, which blackens the clay and makes it water resistant. The pan must be seasoned with oil several times before use. These cassole pans are very important to Vitória, and the city is home to a grassroots organization of pan-makers known as Associacao Das Paneleiras De Goiabeiras. Should you wish to make this dish in its proper form (whether this version or the one to follow), you can buy the proper pot here, or you can also use a Japanese donabe pot or a Chinese clay stew pot.
Moqueca baiana, on the other hand, was developed in the state of Bahia, Brazil. It was further influenced by African and Portuguese cuisines by adding dendê palm oil and coconut milk, respectively. Traditional ingredients remain the same with the dish typically garnished with chopped coriander, then served with rice and farofa. Moqueca was featured on the Netflix TV series, Street Food volume 2, which focused on Latin American Street Foods and which is how I personally discovered this delicious dish!
Foodandroad.com had this to say on the dish:
One of the great influences for the emergence of moqueca was an indigenous dish called pokeka. In this recipe, the fish was cooked and wrapped in leaves. The word pokeka comes from the Tupi language in an allusion to the word ” wrapped”. In addition, the primitive ovens used by the natives for this preparation were called “moquém“.
Indigenous cooking techniques and tropical fish availability merged with the Portuguese culinary tradition of “cozidos”. The Europeans arrived in Brazil and brought with them their culinary legacy, the vegetable stews. Over time, fish was incorporated into the preparation of these dishes, forming the basis of today’s moqueca.
With the arrival of Africans in Brazil, other ingredients were added to the fish moqueca recipe, such as dendê oil (palm oil), chili pepper, and coconut milk, especially in the Bahia region. Thus, the African culture joined the European and indigenous influences, originating a dish appreciated all over the country for its rich flavors, the Moqueca Baiana.
A primary seasoning in moqueca baiana is ‘tempero baiano’, an extremely complex blend of herbs and spices that – much like cajun seasoning in Louisiana – tends to find its way into many different dishes of the region. Also just like cajun seasoning, tempero baiano is a multi-national and multi-cultural flavor profile that owes its existence to the reprehensible period of slavery in the New World.
Specifically, Brazil’s rich and varied cuisine is in fact a reflection of its combined native and immigrant population and its long history of colonialism and slavery. Many European nations including Portugal, Spain, Netherlands and France at one point colonized a portion of Brazil. Slavery became such a huge business, that by 1888, almost 40% of all the African slaves brought to the new world were located in Brazil. The indigenous people of Brazil also faced many trials and tribulations as well. Nearly faced with extinction from new diseases brought over from Europe, they were also enslaved with the Africans under colonial leaders.
This mixture of cultures and people from Europe and Africa influenced the flavors of Brazil’s amazingly diverse cuisine. One of the most popular spice blends found in kitchens all over Brazil is called Tempero Baiano. Originating in the African-influenced province of Bahia, this spice blend has bold, earthy and exotic flavors that add zest to seafood, meats, vegetables, stews and many traditional Brazilian recipes.
Unfortunately, also like cajun spice, there is no definitive recipe for this blend! Tempero baiano, meaning Bahian seasoning, is known for its complex and pungent flavor, where it is a popular additional to soups, stews and as a seasoning or marinate for fish, chicken, vegetables and other meats. I share my version of this ubiquitous spice blend in the recipe below.
Unlike many of My more outré posts, there are virtually no ‘unusual’ or hard-to-find ingredients in this recipe – you will need both dendê oil and unsweetened coconut milk for this meal, as well as dried rosemary powder and dried bay leaf powder, and this is My preferred curry powder blend for this dish. Everything else should be quite easy to find in your local supermarket.
Citizens, this dish, like its close relative Vatapá is a great favorite of mine amongst the constellation of amazing Brazilian dishes and I hope you too will be seduced by its ample South American charms! I have taken the liberty of using one small aspect of the moqueca capixaba in My Bahian version – I use mostly olive oil and only a soupçon of dendê oil for color, flavor and aroma. Palm oil, while delicious, is very bad for your heart – you can make this a completely Bahian version by using all Palm oil instead of olive oil, but immodestly I think the combo is the best of all possible worlds!
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