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Monday, June 14, 2010

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca)



Now that summer is here in full swing, I can’t say enough about how important it is to find ways of making good food without spending hours in the kitchen. After all, the kids and I really just want to be outdoors enjoying these blissful days. Today after spending the day out and about, we came home to an almost empty fridge and pantry and no idea what to make for dinner. I opened the freezer and found some Frozen Tilapia Loins from Costco. Moqueca (Brazilian fish stew) immediately came to mind and sure enough in about half an hour dinner was served.





There are two types of Moqueca in Brazil: Moqueca Capixaba (today’s recipe) and Moqueca Baiana. Moqueca Capixaba comes from the state of Espirito Santo in the southeastern part of the country and it is said to have Amerindian origins. It is lighter than Moqueca Baiana as doesn’t require dende (palm oil) and coconut milk. Other distinct characteristics of Moqueca Capixaba is the use of “urucum” (annatto), which gives the dish a redish color. Finally, Moqueca Capixaba is traditionally made in a dark clay pot typical from the region called Paneleiras de Goiabeiras.


Annatto is an orange-yellow dye obtained from the seeds from Bixa orellana, a tree native to Central and South America tropical forests. In Brazil annatto is known as urucum or colorau. The native population of Brazil used urucum (which means red in their language) as body paint and as such also as a repellent against insect bites. Today, for culinary use in Brazil, it is mostly known as colorau. Some also attribute medicinal properties to the plant and use it to reduce acid and kill bacteria among other things.



Moqueca Capixaba
The true moqueca capixaba as mentioned before takes annatto. If you can try to find Goya’s Sazon with Annatto. Since it is primarily used for color you can substitute a tiny pinch of paprika, saffron or turmeric. I cooked my moqueca in an original moqueca clay pot which is similar to a Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Oven. Note that this dish is made from beginning to end in high heat so select a pan that can take the heat. Lastly, I used the fish straight from the freezer without defrosting prior to cooking - can't get much faster than that!


4 or 5 Frozen Tilapia Loins (I buy mine at Costco)
1 ½ Medium Onions, diced
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 ½ cup boiling water
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves minced
Olive Oil
Salt to taste
Cayenne Pepper to taste (optional)
Ground Annato or Goya Sazon with Annatto

Mix minced garlic, annatto, salt and cayenne together making a paste

In a Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Oven heat over high heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until it starts to smoke. Fry the garlic/annatto paste.

Add frozen tilapia loins, lemon juice and boiling water. Cover and let cook over high heat for about 5 minutes.

Add cilantro, onion and tomatoes in this order, and drizzle some olive oil on top. Let cook uncovered over high heat for another 5 minutes, being careful for the fish not to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Cover once more and over high heat still cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle chopped chives and bring to the table while it is still bubbling. Serve with rice.

P.S. Another traditional accompaniment to moqueca is pirĂ£o, recipe to follow.

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