Monday, March 5, 2012

Ellan's Moqueca

I first had the pleasure of trying moqueca while visiting my brother in law over in California. The restaurant itself was called Moqueca, though at the time I had no idea what the hell that was. By the end of the night, we had ordered the restaurant’s namesake dish and were treated to a Brazilian fish stew that I will not soon forget, brimming with spice and seafood flavor. When Strathy mentioned that his roommate would be cooking a number of dishes from Brazil and asked whether there were any dishes that I would like to learn, I immediately brought up the moqueca, and Ellan has a hell of a version!
Rough dice of bell peppers
and onion
Unfortunately, since I’ve got a touch of a coconut allergy, Ellan graciously agreed to the version of this fish stew that omits the use of coconut milk. One thing to remember with his version is that he actually keeps all of the bones in the soup. As is the case with many soups, the longer that you are able to retain the bones for cooking, the richer the broth will be. Of course, the downside could be that you spend some time trying to pick around bones, or performing the ever graceful act of extracting bones from inside your mouth while still keeping the rest of the precious food inside. (Is there anything sexier?) So, I suppose my advice is, if you’re squeamish about bones, you might want to remove them from the fish, use them to prepare a sort of simple stock, and then discard before cooking the meat of the fish. That’s only if you’re a complete wuss. If among friends, and prepared to truly enjoy a rustic fish stew, go whole hog bones. It’s fun and I’m sure the broth that we tasted was much more rich as a result of allowing them to simmer during the whole of the cooking process.
So let’s dive into the big show: Ellan’s Mocequa.
Simmering fish head
and veggies
Ellan started out by roughly dicing one red bell pepper, one green bell pepper, and an onion for use later on. He also went ahead and heated up about 4 cups of water until simmering in a large saucier… a really large saucier. He then added the head of a dorado (I think that was the fish), and allowed to simmer for about ten minutes or so. When the eyes turned a milky white, you could tell that the fish meat itself was tender and flavoring the stock nicely.
Ten minutes having passed, Ellan added his previously chopped nions and peppers, giving everything a gentle stir, and allowed to cook a few moments more. Having determined that it was the right time to add the rest of the fish, he started to submerge the other pieces of dorado, each cut into about 1 ½ inch steaks by the man at the fish counter who had cleaned the fish. Our chef also added chopped cilantro, a few bay leafs, and three heaping spoonfuls of what he referred to as “his secret ingredient.” The secret ingredient, he explained was actually a type of palm oil that flavors this type of food back in Brazil called azeite-de-dendê. He covered for a few minutes, allowing the rest of the fish to begin its journey into the flavor of the soup.
Moqueca, nearly ready
A half hour had passed, and Allan uncovered his concoction, careful to check the flavors that had developed. The fish had cooked down nicely, rich and flaky and white. It was time to add an additional 2 cups of water (approximate), and then proceed to spoon in five generous tablespoons of regular old Italian tomato sauce. With a final gentle stir, a check on salt levels, and a few more minutes to simmer, he declared that the moqueca was ready.
This soup, just as I had remembered from my virgin experience out in California, was delightfully rich for a seafood soup. It had the savory flavor of the flaky fish, and the seductive aroma of tomatoes and cilantro throughout. The vegetables were tender, and there was nothing short of the most comforting of grandma qualities to every sip of broth. This is a wonderfully nuanced seafood soup, and one that is easy enough to prepare on the cold nights of winter when you need something to take the chill off... even if you aren't lucky enough to be Brazilian (yours truly included). Ellan’s moqueca certainly was a crowd pleaser at our dinner party.

Flaky fish and rich tomato
and cilantro aroma, delicious
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell papper, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
Approximately 6 cups of water, divided
1 whole dorado, about 2 1/2 pounds, cleaned, but skin on with head, and cut into steaks
3 small bay leafs
3 tablespoons of secret Brazilian oil: “Azeite de Dende”
5 tablespoons of Italian tomato sauce
1 generous handful of chopped cilantro

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