My friend Pablo recently went to visit his family in his home state of Espirito Santo (Holy Spirit), located in the southeastern part of Brazil. The reason that I am writing about this, is of my love and fascination with everyones favorite home-cooked meal . It is often my way of starting a conversation by inquiring about the food people grew up eating. The thing I wanted when I would return home for a visit to Mom – was her handmade flour tortillas. As great as a cook as you may think I am – that is the one thing I never fully mastered before she passed away. I simple think it is my desire to always have that memory of her making them. My friends welcome home dinner in Brazil was a dish he has been eating since he was a child. It is called Moqueca Capixaba and is native to his state and influenced by Native Brazilian cuisine. It dates back over 300 years. A simple peasant homestyle stew made with a combination of fish and shellfish – that is usually roasted in banana leaves. After the Portuguese and Spanish colonization they introduced and merged the recipe with garlic, onions and cilantro. And there are some varieties that include dark palm oil (azeite de dendê). So the stew is a nice metaphor to brazilian colonization… a mix and a pinch of everything.
The stew is traditionally cooked in a pan called Panela de barro (clay pot) – still made in the same techniques as the Native Indians of Brazil did centuries ago. This lovely picture came my way and just intrigued me.
The following recipe is a very close to my friends Mom’s dish. This recipe is by Mara Salles, owner-chef of Tordesilhas restaurant in São Paulo, serving contemporary Brazilian cuisine.
2 pounds of fish (net weight, slices or fillets), preferably sea bass or other firm, white-fleshed fish (in Brazil, namorado is popular)
5 ripe tomatoes, each chopped into 8 pieces
2 medium onions, chopped in large cubes
50 ml of annatto oil (made from 1.5 ounces (50 ml) of olive oil + 1 teaspoon of crushed annatto seeds)
3 chopped garlic cloves
1/2 cup of water
1 pinch of finely minced, fresh dedo de moça pepper or other small, hot chile (see reference below)
1 pinch of black pepper
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
Salt and cilantro to taste
For The Fish Purée
1 pound (1/2 kg) fish scraps (head, tail and backbone)
1.5 ounces (50 ml) of olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch of cilantro, parsley and green onion
1/4 green pepper and 1/4 red pepper, roughly chopped
2 roughly-chopped tomatoes, de-seeded
1 quart of water
1 pinch each of annatto powder, salt, black pepper and malagueta pepper (or hot chile powder) to taste
Manioc flour to thicken
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1. Season the fish with salt, lemon and peppers. In a clay pan, heat the annatto oil and fry the garlic.
2. Cover the bottom of the pan with the fish slices, add the chopped tomato and onion and pour in the water. Drizzle over a small amount of annatto oil.
3. Cover and boil over a medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, making sure that thevegetables remain whole and firm. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve the dish while still piping hot.
To Make The Annatto Oil
1. Heat the olive oil mixed with annatto seeds in a pan or frying pan, and stir until the oil takes on a reddish tinge.
To Make The Fish Purée
1. Season the fish with salt, lemon and black pepper. Fry the garlic in olive oil, then the tomatoes, pepper and onion. When cooked, add the annatto oil.
2. Add the fish and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the water and bunch of cilantro, parsley and green onion. Cook until the liquid is reduced to approximately 1 quart.
3. Strain the mixture, then place back on the heat, and adjust the seasoning with salt and malagueta pepper. When the mixture boils, add sufficient manioc flour so that it attains the consistency of a purée.