It’s time for me to post something typically Brazilian. For those who are not familiar with Brazilian cooking, this dish is a great introduction. It originates from Bahia, a very beautiful Brazilian state, where Summer never ends. Most dishes from Bahia, or as we say “comida baiana”, are very spicy, just like in other hot places of the world. The warm climate goes hand in hand with a ton of pepper, which helps get the sweat going…
The only exotic ingredients for moqueca are coconut milk and dende (a kind of palm oil). These days one can find coconut milk rather easily – I advise you to buy brands from Thailand and make sure it is NOT the sweetened version. I feel a bit queasy just imagining a moqueca made with sweet coconut milk.
At the risk of receiving hate mail from Brazilians, I will share with you my recipe for shrimp moqueca, which does not include dende oil, for two reasons: first, I am never able to find Brazilian dende here. Second, I actually do not mind a moqueca made without it. With this last phrase, I’ve infuriated the whole population of Bahia (more than 14 million people), and 95% of all other Brazilians (about 168 million folks).
If you are still with me, allow me to show you a slightly unconventional, but delicious moqueca recipe… And, by the way, if you want to listen to the correct pronunciation of the word, click here to listen to the very writer of this blog saying it in native Brazilian portuguese
SHRIMP MOQUECA a la Sally
(receita em portugues ao final da proxima pagina)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil (or a mixture of dende oil and olive oil)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes (I like to use fire roasted, they work very well in this dish)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup coconut milk
hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha)
fresh cilantro to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare a mild brining solution mixing 1 quart water with 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup sugar, plus the juice of half a lemon. Submerge the shrimp in the solution for about 15 minutes (see my comments). Remove shrimp from brine, rinse briefly and dry on paper towels.
Saute the onion in olive oil until it starts to turn golden, add the red bell pepper, garlic and fresh cilantro and saute for a few minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes with their juices, cook for 5 to 10 minutes to marry the flavors, and add the shrimp. Cook just until it turns opaque, add the coconut milk, reduce the heat to low, and cook until everything is heated through and the sauce is smooth. Do not let the coconut milk boil too much or it may separate (it will still taste delicious, but it will look curdled). Add hot pepper sauce, taste, adjust seasoning and right before serving add more fresh cilantro and the juice of the other half of the lemon.
Serve right away over white rice.
Shrimp: to brine or not to brine.
I admit that this is not the traditional way to prepare the shrimp for moqueca. However, years ago I learned this “trick” of briefly brining shrimp, particularly when buying the frozen critters. The difference is amazing. In fact, I advise you to do an experiment and cook two batches of your favorite stir-fried, baked, or stewed shrimp recipe. For one batch, use the shrimp as you would normally, simply defrosted. On the second batch, try this brining method. You will never look back! It plumps the shrimp, gives it a nice texture, definitely worth the few extra minutes.
General comments – dende oil is bright red due to a high concentration of carotenoids. Some people prefer to add it at the end of cooking, because the red color is better preserved that way. I’ve seen palm oil (African origin) for sale here in the US, but it does not look like the “dende oil” available in Brazil, so I refrain from using it.
You can make moqueca using any firm, mild tasting fish instead of shrimp, or in addition to it. Halibut, fresh cod, mahi-mahi, would all be great. I’ve made moqueca with a mixture of shrimp and scallops that were very, very tasty. Just make sure not to overcook the scallops. Ever.
This dish is traditionally quite spicy, so feel free to add serrano peppers or habaneros (if you feel brave enough), and to indulge in your favorite hot sauce. I am partial to Sriracha…
Moqueca de camarao a minha moda
500 gm camarao grande, descascado
1/4 xicara de sal (nao-iodado, kosher)
1/4 xicara de acucar
suco de 1 limao amarelo
1/4 xicara de azeite (ou mistura de azeite de oliva com dende)
1/2 cebola picada
1/4 xicara de pimentao vermelho, sem casca, picado
1 dente de alho picado
1/4 xicara de coentro fresco, picado
2 xicaras de tomates cortados em pedacos (ou use enlatados de boa qualidade)
1/2 a 3/4 xicara de leite de coco
molho de pimenta de sua preferencia
coentro a gosto
sal e pimenta a gosto
Prepare uma salmoura misturando 4 copos de agua com o sal, acucar e o suco de meio limao. Dissolva bem e mergulhe os camaroes por cerca de 15 minutos (essa etapa nao e’ tradicional em moquecas, mas podem acreditar que produz os camaroes mais suculentos e macios do mundo, especialmente se tiverem que usar camarao congelado). Escorra e exague levemente os camaroes, colocando para secar sobre papel absorvente.
Cozinhe a cebola no oleo de escolha ate’ que comece a ficar douradinha, adicione o pimentao, alho e o coentro e cozinhe tudo por alguns minutos. Tempere com sal e pimenta. Adicione os tomates (pode usar em lata), cozinhe por 5 a 10 minutos, e adicione os camaroes. Cozinhe apenas ate’ que comecem a ficar opacos, adicione o leite de coco e cozinhe ate’ que tudo esteja bem quente e o molho uniforme. Nao deixe o liquido ferver violentamente, use fogo medio.
Tempere com seu molho de pimenta favorito, ajuste o tempero com sal e pimenta, adicione coentro e o suco da outra metade do limao logo antes de servir sobre arroz branco.
Comentarios: essa e’ uma receita nao muito convencional, nao so’ porque nao uso azeite de dende na minha moqueca (impossivel de achar por aqui), como inclui preparar o camarao em uma salmoura. Esse metodo vale a pena tentar, principalmente se voces tem acesso apenas a camarao congelado. Qualquer receita que inclui camaroes medios ou grandes eu inicio com uma salmoura leve, um truque que aprendi ha’ varios anos em um livro sobre culinaria chinesa.