Friday, June 1, 2007


The word "moqueca" originates from the Tupi word "moquém", which was a system used by the native Brazilians to cook potatoes and different kinds of meats, especially fish. They wrapped the fish in leaves, put it in a grid made of sticks and grilled it on fire. With time, people stopped grilling the fish on fire and started using the stove. Through the years, moqueca has received contributions from the Portuguese (olive oil) and Africans (dende oil and coconut milk) and has become a typical Brazilian dish.

Nowadays, we have many different kinds of moquecas, depending on the meat used: fish, oyster, crab, shrimp, lobster, ray, etc. The moqueca from Espírito Santo State, called "moqueca capixaba" is different from the moqueca from Bahia State, known as "moqueca baiana". While the latter has dende oil and coconut milk, the first lacks those ingredients and has urucum seeds instead.

I am going to give you here my recipe of "moqueca baiana" made with fish:

Moqueca de Peixe (Fish Moqueca)

  • 2 pounds fish (any white fleshed fish like red snapper, grouper or red fish)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 small tomato roughly chopped, 2 medium tomatoes sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 bell peppers (1 green and 1 red) sliced into thin rounds
  • 4 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 small onion roughly chopped, 1 large onion sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dende oil
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • pickled jalapeños thinly chopped, to your taste
  • 2 teaspoons salt

How to prepare:
  1. Cut the fish into 2-inch pieces.
  2. Combine 1 small tomato, 1 small onion, 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 garlic cloves in a food processor and process until pieces are very small. Mix it with juice of 1 lime.
  3. Cover both sides of the fish with this mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  4. Use the half of the bell peppers, tomatoes and onions cut into round slices and half of the remaining cilantro to make layers on top of each other in a large saute pan.
  5. Cover those layers with the fish and the marinade.
  6. Make other layers with the remaining bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and cilantro to cover the fish. Add the jalapeños (I use 1 teaspoon for mild flavor).
  7. Drizzle everything with olive oil and dende oil. Add coconut milk and 1 teaspoon of salt, stir, cover with a lid and cook over low heat, until the flesh starts to flake, about 20 minutes.
Serve this dish with white rice and "farofa de dendê" - soon to be posted here.
Serves 4-6 people.

Moqueca, white rice and farofa de dendê - Picture taken by Cynthia Santos


Stephen said...

I am unconvinced as to how good this dish actually is by only your description and recipe. I strongly feel that empirical "in vivo" evidence is necessary.

Cynthia Santos said...

I am glad to see you here! And you're invited to eat this delicious moqueca when you visit the US! ;-)

jamesformanjr said...

I am a former student of Sylvia Mendel, and I'm spending the summer (Brazilian winter) in Bahia. I'm very excited to get this recipe, and will try it out next week. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks for your blog. It's fabulous.

Cynthia Santos said...

Since you're in Bahia, you should try "moqueca" there. It is the best place to have it! If you're in Salvador, go the the restaurant in Pelourinho called "Tempero da Dada" and try "moqueca de siri mole" (soft shell crab moqueca). I had it there and it is absolutely delicious!

Tina said...

dear Cynthia,
Thanks for sharing! I first had it at Fabiano's mom's kitchen. And last Friday I just discussed this dish with my new friend from São Paulo. She was wondering whether I can find the essential ingredient
"dende oil" in Berlin. After a quick check online, maybe I can substitute it with annatto oil or peanut oil. Can't wait to try it!