This delicious Brazilian seafood stew, also known as 'Moqueca Baiana', is a very traditional dish in Brazil. You won't believe how flavorful and simple to make this dish is!
Moqueca baiana is a Brazilian fish stew that originated in the state of Bahia. It has elements from various cultures that influenced the Bahian cuisine, like Indigenous Brazilian, Portuguese and African.
This fish stew was created by Native Brazilians who later on added coconut milk, an ingredient presented by the Portugueses, and dendê oil (red palm oil), introduced by African slaves. The result is a super flavorful stew that everybody falls in love with once they try it.
Ingredients and substitutions
The traditional ingredients for the Brazilian seafood stew (Bahian style) are:
Seafood: White fish and shrimp are the most common combination. You can use Tilapia, Halibut, Swordfish, Cod, and many others. Tilapia is not very firm, but if you don't move things around in the pan while cooking, it should be fine.
Tomatoes and bell pepper: In the Bahian version bell pepper is a staple, so don't substitute it. Green is the most commonly used pepper, but you can mix yellow and red too.
Onion, garlic, and chili pepper: These three ingredients give flavor and aroma to the dish. I didn't use any chili peppers in my recipe, but if you'd like some heat, feel free to add it.
Lime: We'll use the juice of one lime to marinate the fish. And later on, we will add about 2 tablespoons of the marinade into the dish. The lime helps to freshen and bring out the flavors.
Coconut milk: This ingredient is very important in the Brazilian seafood stew (Bahian style). You can't sub this one.
Red palm oil (Dendê oil): You can easily find it on Amazon. This is one of the ingredients that give a very distinct flavor to the Bahian seafood stew, so try not to skip it. But, if you can't get red palm oil, you can use olive oil. Just keep in mind that, although still delicious, it won't have quite the same taste like the traditional recipe.
Cilantro: Is a key ingredient in this stew, so don't skip it. You can try using parsley if you don't like cilantro. Just keep in mind that the taste will be different.
*All amounts are specified in the recipe card, at the end of this post.
How to make it
Some good tips
Yes, you can use Tilapia: I've always heard that Tilapia is not firm enough to be used in moquecas. Well, I decided to try it, and I'm happy to say that it worked really well. Just don't move the fillets while cooking, and don't overcook them. Keep this in mind, and your stew will be a success.
Sauté the vegetables: Because we are using fish fillets, with no bones, we won't cook it for very long, so it's important to sauté the vegetables. Sautéing helps develop complex flavors and aromas, which will help to impart more flavor to the stew.
Emulsify the sauce: I strongly suggest emulsifying the coconut milk and red palm oil before adding them to the stew. An immersion blender works great. If you don't do this, you'll have to stir the ingredients in the pan, causing your fish to maybe falling apart.
Don't disturb the fish: Fish can be very delicate, especially after fully cooked. So don't move them around. We don't want smashed pieces of fish all over the stew.
Cooking time may vary: The times suggested in this recipe are for using Tilapia fillets. If using another kind of fish, adjust the times as necessary.
Cilantro is the last ingredient to be added: It has an amazing flavor, but it doesn't stand up well to long cooking times. If added too early, it loses its flavor. So add it at the last minute, and don't forget to use the stems too! They are just as flavorful as the leaves. For more information about cooking with cilantro, you can check this article.
Which pan should I use?
The traditional Brazilian fish stew is made in a clay pan, which is alkaline, non-toxic, and holds the heat pretty well. Cooking moqueca in a clay pan is like participating in the history and culture of Native Brazilians.
But, I know, it's hard to find that type of clay pan, especially outside of Brazil, therefore if you have a cast-iron braiser or Dutch oven, it's more than enough; they also hold the heat really well.
If you don't have a cast-iron pan either, any wide-bottomed pan with fairly high sides will do the job. Just keep the heat on low.
How to serve it
The Brazilian seafood stew is traditionally served over white rice. You can also make some farofa, fried plantain, and/or a green salad to serve on the side.
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📖 Recipe / Receita
Brazilian Seafood Stew (Moqueca Baiana)
- 1 lb white fish fillets (500g) (tilapia, halibut, swordfish, cod)
- 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (500g)
- 1 lime (about 4 Tbsp. of juice)
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 tomatoes (Roma tomatoes are great)
- 13.5 fl. oz. coconut milk (400ml)
- 1½ Tablespoon red palm oil (Dendê oil)
- ½ bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 chili pepper (optional)
- 1½ teaspoon salt (or adjust to your liking)
- Place the fish fillets and shrimps in a bowl, and season it with salt (about 1 tsp or the amount of your preference), lemon juice and 2 minced garlic cloves. Set it aside in the fridge.
- While the fish marinates, slice the bell pepper (removing the seeds and white segments inside), onion and tomatoes, about 0.3 inches/a little less than 1cm thick.
- Add olive oil to a wide pan (preferably cast iron or clay pan) and sauté the onion. When it starts to get translucent, add bell pepper and sauté for a minute. Open space in the pan and add 3 minced garlic cloves, drizzling more olive oil if necessary. Sauté garlic for a few seconds, add tomatoes and chili pepper (if using), mix everything and close the lid for 1 minute. If pan is too dry and you see that vegetables may start burning, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
- Now add the fish (avoid overlapping) and close the lid for a minute.
- While fish is cooking, mix coconut milk, red palm oil and salt (about ½ tsp or to your liking). I like using an immersion blender to emulsify it, but you can use a whisk, if you don't have it.
- Pour half of the mixture over the fish, and let it cook, with the lid on, for about 3 minutes. If your fish is very firm and thick, you might need to cook it a little longer. Try not to move the fish to avoid them falling apart.
- Add shrimp and 2 tablespoons of the marinade in the pan. Add the other half of the coconut mixture, close the lid, and cook for about 5 more minutes, or until shrimp and fish are done.
- Add chopped cilantro and, very delicately, with a spoon, make sure that it gets to the sauce. Taste it and correct the salt if necessary. Your delicious Brazilian seafood stew is ready to be served!
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