When categorizing a meaty stew you would not label it fast food. But when you make a stew with fish things speed up.
That’s because unlike cubes of meat, which need to be simmered awhile in a stew to make them tender, cubes of fish only need to simmer until cooked through and flavourful, making the stew quicker to prepare. That fact is on demonstrated in today’s recipe for moqueca (pronounced mo-KEH-kah), a Brazilian-style fish stew.
Local ingredients and the cooking techniques of both Brazil’s indigenous population and those who long ago settled there from places such as Portugal and Africa tastily blend in moqueca — a dish that over time became one of Brazil’s national dishes.
Not surprisingly, given how long moqueca has been made in Brazil, from region to region you’ll find variations on how it’s made, including those also stocked with other seafood, such as shrimp, octopus, mussels and/or crab.
In general, though, moqueca is a coconut milk-based fish stew that’s strewn with vegetables and seasoned with such things as chili peppers, spices and herbs, how I made it.
Once I simmered and made that aromatic, tasty base for the stew, boneless cubes of fish were cooked in it. The best types of fish to use are firm-fleshed types that won’t overly flake and fall apart when cooked in a stew. In Canada, good options are B.C. halibut fillets and B.C. lingcod fillets, the latter being what I used in my version of moqueca.
My recipe for moqueca serves two, but could be doubled or further expanded if feeding a larger group. To make a filling supper, serve the saucy moqueca with rice and crusty bread.
My version of this Brazilian-style fish stew sees cubes of B.C. lingcod cooked in a saucy coconut milk mixture, enhanced with vegetables, chili peppers, spices and cilantro.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 20 minutes
Makes: two servings
3/4 lb (340 grams) lingcod or other cod fillet, patted dry
1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp salt, plus some to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup diced white or yellow onion (see Note 1)
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/3 cup diced green bell pepper
1/3 cup diced carrot
3/4 cup diced ripe red tomato (see Note 2)
1 medium or large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
• pinch red pepper flakes
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp coconut milk (see Note 3)
1/2 cup fish or chicken stock
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley
• lime slices and cilantro or parsley sprigs, for garnish (optional)
Cut the cod into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes and place in a shallow bowl. Add the lime zest, lime juice and 1/4 tsp salt and toss to coat the fish. Set cod aside for now.
Pour the oil into a 10-inch cast iron or non-stick skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, bell peppers and carrot and cook and stir until softened, about four minutes. Mix in the tomatoes, garlic, jalapeño pepper, tomato paste, cumin and red pepper flakes and cook and stir one minute more.
Add the coconut milk and stock to the skillet and bring to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Gently simmer, uncovered, until the carrots are tender, about seven to eight minutes.
Taste and season this base for the stew with salt, as needed, and then gently stir in the fish. Return to a simmer and cook stew until the fish is just cooked through, about four to five minutes. Mix in the chopped cilantro (or parsley) and the stew is ready. Garnish each serving of the stew, if desired, with lime slices and cilantro (or parsley) sprigs.
Note 1: Diced in this recipe means to cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
Note 2: Two small to medium, ripe, on the vine tomatoes should yield the diced amount needed here.
Note 3: 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp coconut milk is about half a 400 mL can. Give the coconut milk a stir to combine the milk and solids before measuring. The leftover coconut milk you have from the can could be frozen for another time.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.