Just about a year ago today, I ate one of the best meals of my life in Salvador, a city in Northern Brazil. Salvador is awesome. It's famous for amazing Bahian food, capoeira, and live drum troupes, and you can see it in all its glory in Michael Jackson's "They Don't Really Care About Us" video. MJ's presence is everywhere in the Pelourinho, the funky cultural epicenter of the city. He's just another offbeat element that makes Salvador one of the liveliest and joyful cities I've ever been, despite some fairly severe social issues.
My friends and I took advantage of the free margarita happy hour in our hostel, and before long we had made some new friends, ready to shamble out for some food together. Somehow we ended up in a secluded garden in the back of a restaurant that was far too refined and romantic for our ragtag, noisy group of five. We still refer to that night as "the five man date," surrounded by schmoopy couples, dining by candlelight with random Brits we thought we would never see again.
One of the dishes that we shared that night was an octopus moqueca. Moqueca is a classic dish from Brazil, and the Bahian version is characterized by seafood, coconut milk, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Moqueca varies regionally, with some versions omitting the coconut milk and adding delicious things like plantains or dried shrimp.
Usually Moqueca is colored to a rich brick red by dende oil, an African red palm oil. The oil can be tough to find, so I used a blender to recreate the color. Blend the tomatoes, onion, chiles and garlic and cook it like a sofrito, the classic base of many Latin American foods. It builds great flavor and gives the stew the nice consistent red color typical of dende oil. You can also skip the blender and just sauté everything in its chopped state, but you won't get the same color or rich texture.
I also made a quick shrimp stock using the shells. This is another step you can skip (sub in pre-made chicken or fish stock). But it makes efficient use of the shrimp shells, and also builds great flavor and color.
Moqueca is typically served with hot sauce and farofa (a toasted manioc flour mixture). To simplify, we'll just serve it with rice, another common accompaniment.
Yield: Serves 6-8 as a main dish
Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 40 min Total Time: 70 min
2 tsp cooking oil (olive, grapeseed or coconut all work). Use dende oil to cook if you have it.
1 lb shrimp, cleaned and shells removed. Save shells for shrimp stock.
Juice of 2 limes
1 lb white fish, cut into 0.5" chunks
1 onion, half chopped roughly, and half sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
14oz / 400 g can diced tomatoes, drained
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cups / 1 Liter shrimp stock (recipe below), or fish or chicken stock, or water
small bunch cilantro, leaves picked and roughly chopped
14oz / 400 g can coconut milk
Salt and pepper
1 tsp cooking oil
Shrimp shells (see above)
Half an onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
Optional garnish: Hot sauce, cilantro leaves, lime wedges and rice
Heat 1 tsp oil in saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions and carrots for about 5 minutes. Add shrimp shells and salt and sauté another minute. Add water, turn down heat to low, cover and simmer while you make the rest of the dish (about 20 minutes). Strain using fine mesh strainer, pushing down on solids to get out all the flavor. Discard solids.
In a bowl, combine lime juice, 1 tsp oil, shrimp, fish and a big pinch of salt. Let marinate in fridge while you prep the rest of the dish.
In food processor, combine the chopped onion, tomato, chile and garlic. Blend til fairly smooth, but still with some texture. This is your sofrito. If you don't have a blender, just chop the ingredients more finely and sauté like the sofrito.
Heat 1 tsp oil in pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add sofrito and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and sauté another 3 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add coconut milk. Stir through til blended.
Add marinated shrimp and fish. Cook another 4 minutes til shrimp is cooked through. Turn off heat and let coast for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, put some rice in a bowl and top with stew and some cilantro, with lime and hot sauce on the side.