I remember as a young man checking out some of the wilder Brazilian restaurants in NYC. I fell in love with the raw, unvarnished lust for food that the Brazilians have—and of course, their sensuality comes dripping off their music, dance and all-around sexy lifestyle. It took me years to get to Brazil to taste and explore their food for myself. Although I had been cooking this dish for 20 years, I was not prepared for the boldness of the seafood bowls that I tasted up and down the coast of Brazil. This is a traditional moqueca, which is a fish stew. Brazilian seafood stews of this type will blow your mind. Every time I cook this dish for friends and family, the reaction is the same: amazement.
Make this as varied as you like – many restaurants in Brazil make their stews with cuttlefish, local species of crab, crayfish, langoustes and other assorted fish and shellfish.
Brazilian Fish, Shrimp & Mussel Stew
- 1 pound skinless halibut fillet, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 2 serrano chiles, seeded and minced (2 1/2 tablespoons)
- 6 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups bottled clam juice
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 pound mussels, scrubbed
- 2 tablespoons natural cashew butter
In a medium bowl, toss the fish with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain and pat dry.
In a large pot, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the fish in a single layer and brown on one side only over moderately high heat, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add the onion, chiles, garlic and the 1/4 cup chopped cilantro to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste, coating the vegetables. Add the clam juice and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to moderate and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and simmer until thickened slightly, about 3 minutes.
Return the fish to the pot. Add the shrimp, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are almost cooked through, about 2 minutes. Nestle the mussels into the stew, cover, and cook until the mussels have opened, about 2 minutes.
Whisk the cashew butter with 2 tablespoons of hot water, then stir it into the stew. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice and season with salt. Transfer the stew to bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve.