Today, we are going to talk about one of the dishes that represents Brazilian cuisine the most: moqueca.
Brazilian cuisine is a delicious blend of three cultures that has created dishes and specialties that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
The base of Brazilian cuisine has indigenous roots and, apart from its indigenous roots, was influenced by two peoples: the Portuguese, who conquered the country, and the African slaves who worked in the sugar cane and coffee plantations.
The result is a perfect blend of these three influences that intertwine to create, in a unique style, this unique Brazilian cuisine.
Fish and seafood are very abundant in Brazil and the country also features a very large variety of tropical fruits.
What is moqueca?
Halfway between a rich and thick soup and a saucy stew, moqueca is one of the most traditional dishes of Brazil.
It is called moqueca but also muqueca, poqueca or mu’kaka in quimbundo, a dialect of Angola or pokeka in tupi, a Native American dialect. In the majority of cases, as for our Brazilian moqueca recipe today, it is fish-based and is typical of Brazilian cuisine and Angolan cuisine.
What are the different versions of moqueca?
While the only thing they have in common is seafood, there are two variants of moqueca that come from two different Brazilian regions. In each of these two regions, the inhabitants are convinced to hold all the secrets of the real moqueca and often dispute their paternity.
One is the moqueca de Capixaba, in the state of Espirito Santo, in southeastern Brazil, the other is the moqueca de Bahia (Salvador de Bahia), a city in the state of Bahia, in the northeastern Brazil.
The moqueca de Bahia would not be the moqueca de Bahia without coconut milk, bell pepper, pepper, dendé oil (palm oil) and cilantro. The flavors of the cuisine from Bahia are stronger and more varied, as it should be for the most African of Brazilian cities.
The moqueca de Capixaba is lighter. Prepared with tomatoes, urucum oil and fish broth, it tastes sweeter with no notes from African cuisine.
The Portuguese influence adds to the African influence to create the recipe of the moqueca de Bahia. As for the moqueca recipe from Capixaba, it does not have any African influence. Indeed, the state of Espirito Santo has received throughout its history, only a very small number of African slaves, and those who came were mainly from Angola, where people have eating habits similar to those of the Portuguese with whom they had lived since the fifteenth century. Unlike Bahia, where Africans arrived from many countries in much greater numbers. Indeed, Salvador was the largest port for the entry of African slaves into Brazil in the late eighteenth century.
What is the origin of moqueca?
For some Brazilian cuisine historians, the origin of the Brazilian fish stew goes back to the fish brought by the Portuguese to which Africans added ingredients of their culinary tradition. However, it is important to note that the natives of Brazil already consumed a lot of fish.
The word moqueca comes from the native expression moquem which means “a stick for grilling or roasting on hot coals”. This word was born of the natives’ habit of cooking fish and meat wrapped in leaves, often banana leaves, over a fire. They planted a stick in their center to grill them, similar to the concept of a skewer.
Today, moqueca is usually prepared in a clay pot, which cooks in the same way as the moquem. The tradition of making moqueca in a clay pot is as traditional as the dish itself. In states such as the state of Espirito Santo, the utensil has even acquired the status of “immaterial national treasure” because of its cultural value.
Like the recipe, the clay pot also has an indigenous origin and archaeological studies identify pottery cooking techniques as being from tupi-guarani and una heritage. And today, this clay pot is closely related to the preparation and the great taste of the moqueca that is so typically Brazilian.
What is urucum?
Urucum has no secrets for 196 flavors. It is nothing more than achiote or annato. Bixa orellana is the tree or shrub from tropical American regions from which the seeds are extracted. As soon as this tree blooms, it gives pods changing from orange-red to brown. Once ripe, these pods give the achiote seeds. Annatto is used as a flavoring and food coloring in South America, Africa and Asia.
What is dendé?
Dendê oil is an orange and tasty oil extracted from the nut of a palm tree, the Dendezeiro (Elaieis Guineensis). It is palm oil! Originally from the traditional agriculture in Africa, Asia and South America, its yellow-orange color is due to its large amount of beta-carotene, up to 14 times more than in carrots! Palm oil gives the moqueca a slightly yellow color.
How to make authentic moqueca?
Moqueca can be prepared with whiting, grouper, cod and/or seafood. For a good moqueca, the two Brazilian stars of the sea are:
I prepared my moqueca de peixe for a meal at my friend Mathias, whom I still blame for starting snacking on it secretly in my kitchen! Mathias’ guest of honor that night was named Beatriz, my new Brazilian friend but … A Brazilian friend from the city of Vitória, the state of Espirito Santo! Well, no problem, I assure you, there was no “diplomatic incident”, just a few humorous little frictions at the table that ended up in a “your moqueca is still delicious!” Well, the few caipirinhas (with more cachaça than ice) probably helped!
I am leaving you in the company of this song dedicated to the Brazilian seafood stew and its dendé that Beatriz made me discover.
- 6 steaks tuna, cod, shark, or whiting
- 4 limes
- 2 red hot peppers (or green) , finely sliced
- 5 cloves garlic , crushed
- 5 scallions , chopped
- 3 onions , cut into ½-inch sections
- 3 red bell peppers , sliced
- 2 green bell peppers , sliced
- 5 tomatoes , sliced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons palm oil
- 1 bunch cilantro , chopped
- ½ bunch chives , chopped
- 1¼ cup water
- 1¼ cup coconut milk or cream
- Wash and dry the fish steaks well with paper towel.
- Place in an airtight container. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lime juice and add the garlic cloves.
- Mix, cover and marinate in a cool place for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- In a Dutch oven, sauté the chopped scallions in hot olive oil for 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the fish and all the marinade, turn gently after about 30 seconds then add the onion and the hot peppers.
- Cook on low heat for 10 minutes then add the palm oil, coconut milk and water.
- Add half of the cilantro and chives. Salt and pepper.
- Gently take the fish out. Transfer the content of the pan to a cast iron, ceramic or clay pot. Add the sliced tomatoes and bell peppers, then place the fish gently on top.
- Bake covered in a preheated oven at 350 F for 30 minutes.
- 5 minutes before the end of cooking, sprinkle with remaining cilantro and chive.
- Serve with white rice.