01 April 2013

Moqueca de Peixe

The classic Brazilian stew known as moqueca has a lot in common with other countries’ signature dishes, such as France’s bouillabaisse and North Africa’s couscous, in that there are at least 347 different ways to prepare it. You can make a Bahian moqueca (with dendê, or palm oil, and coconut milk), or you can make a Capixaba moqueca (without the dendê and coconut milk, but with a red coloring called urucum); you can use any kind of fish or seafood you want, or use meat, chicken or eggs, or even bananas instead. No matter who you talk to in Brazil, that person will insist that their recipe is the best recipe. But it’s not all argument, because most moqueca cooks do agree that you must cook the stew in a clay casserole and serve it from the same dish. Most cooks also agree on the various add-ins: onion, tomato, bell peppers, chili peppers and cilantro.

Over the years Mark and I have devoured our fair share of moquecas, both in restaurants and private homes. With the arrogance of the newcomer we believe we can tell a good moqueca from a bad one, and we never hesitate to share our opinions with the rest of the moqueca mavens. But make our own? No, not with those complex flavors. It’s only within the last month that we took the plunge and bought a clay moqueca pot at a roadside stand on the ride in to Rio (for a whopping $7.50!) Once back home, we researched recipes, donned our aprons and voilà! It turns out to be incredibly easy. (Note: since I find dendê impossible to digest, I tend towards the Capixaba version. Feel free to add dendê, and good luck to you if it’s your first time.)

Our first moqueca was made with shark (cação), which seems to be the classic Búzios version, but the one pictured here is being made with dourado. Besides the fish steaks, which you should marinate a while in lime juice, garlic and salt, slice or dice up onion, tomato, green pepper (optional) and cilantro, some malagueta peppers, urucum, and coconut milk (not usually used in a Capixaba version, but who’s looking?)

Put some oil in the bottom of the pot, mix in some urucum, and then start layering in this order: onion, tomato, pepper, cilantro. Then place a layer of fish steaks, and do another layer of onion, tomato, pepper and cilantro. Throw in some malagueta peppers at this point, too.

Start layering  . . .
Fish layer
Final layer, close her up

Cover and boil for about 15-20 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Then add the bottle of coconut milk, and keep cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Test the fish for doneness.

Bring the whole pot to the table and serve it over rice while your guests drool. It’s easy, delicious, nutritious, a great dinner party dish.

(Note: In Brazil, Moqueca de Peixe is also served with farofa (a toasted manioc flour mixture) and pirão (a very thick, gravy-like side dish made from fish heads). I’ve always had some trouble with pirão since it, too, is made with dendê, so I leave it out. I apologize to my Brazilian friends, but you all know there are plenty of foreigners with this particular disability.)


  1. I don't use any dendê, actually no oil at all. No coconut milk nor add water, the juice forms from the slow cooking fish and vegetables. ahhh and the cilandro I add only at the very end, basicaly when I turn off the fire I add the cilandro, cove the pot and leave it for 5 minutes.


    1. I'm going to leave the water out also, and put the cilantro in only at the end, for the next one I do. I could try to omit the coconut milk, but I like it too much . . . apetite!