Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)

published Sep 28, 2023
Moqueca Recipe

Travel to Brazil with this one-pot seafood stew. Served with white rice, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime, it’s simple and delicious.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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Overhead view of fish stew in a brown bowl, topped with herbs.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Lauren Radel

Besides sipping on caipirinhas during my first (and only) trip to Brazil, I stuffed myself with as much moqueca as possible. While I have eaten many versions of moqueca (Brazil’s equivalent of seafood stew), I hadn’t made it myself — so I enlisted the help of my friend Camila Rinaldi, a professional chef and a native of Brazil. 

Chef Camila taught me a lot about the fish stew, ensuring I was on the right track with developing my recipe to sharing how she makes her own. After several rounds of testing, I landed on my perfect moqueca. Here’s how to make the best moqueca at home if you can’t get to Brazil. 

What Is Moqueca? 

At its most basic, moqueca is a seafood stew that can be made with fish, seafood, or a mix of the two. In Brazil, it’s traditionally prepared with cação, a type of shark, and cooked in a clay pot. While the origins of the dish are hazy, it has indigenous, African, and Portuguese influences. 

There are two main types of moqueca.

  • Moqueca baiana. Developed in the state of Bahia, this version features a rich base of coconut milk and, most notably, dendê oil (aka red palm oil), which can be attributed to a strong African influence. My recipe mirrors this style.  
  • Moqueca capixaba. This version, from the state of Espírito Santo, is lighter and milder in flavor. It uses olive oil and annatto (or achiote). 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Lauren Radel

Key Ingredients in Moqueca

  • Fish. Because the fish is simmered in a mixture of coconut milk and seafood stock, it’s best to opt for a firm white fish like cod or halibut, as it’s less likely to fall apart in the pot. If you like, you can use different types of fish or seafood like salmon or shrimp. Chef Camila likes to use scallops and prawns in her version. 
  • Tomatoes. The addition of tomatoes adds sweet and savory flavors to this stew. You can use either fresh or canned diced tomatoes. 
  • Bell peppers. It’s common to use a colorful mix of bell peppers. I use one orange and one red, but you can swap in a yellow pepper or use two of the same color.
  • Lime. This recipe calls for the zest and juice of one lime, which is added to the pot along with the coconut milk and seafood stock. You’ll also want extra wedges for squeezing over the top when serving. 
  • Dendê oil. This nutty- and slightly smoky-tasting ingredient is the key to moqueca baiana’s unique flavor. While you can substitute olive oil in its place, the flavor — and color — simply won’t be the same. 

How to Make Moqueca

The beauty of this dish is that it comes together in a large pot (or Dutch oven), which essentially makes it a one-pot meal. 

  • Prep your ingredients. Mince the garlic, chop the onion and tomatoes, slice the bell peppers, and zest and juice a lime. You’ll also need to finely chop some cilantro and portion the fish into 2-inch pieces. 
  • Cook the aromatics and vegetables. You’ll start by sautéing the garlic and onion, then add the bell peppers and cook until softened. At this point, add the tomatoes and cook until their juices are just beginning to evaporate. 
  • Add the liquids. Pour in the coconut milk and seafood stock. Season with salt and the lime juice and zest, bring to a simmer, and let cook for five minutes. 
  • Add the fish. Gently submerge the fish in the stew, cover the pot, and simmer until just cooked through. Add some cilantro and season to taste with salt. 
  • Serve the moqueca. When it’s ready to serve, garnish with cilantro and lime wedges for squeezing. I like to eat my moqueca with steamed white rice

Moqueca Recipe

Travel to Brazil with this one-pot seafood stew. Served with white rice, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime, it’s simple and delicious.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper

  • 1

    medium orange bell pepper

  • 2

    fresh vine-ripened medium tomatoes (about 10 ounces total), or 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

  • 2

    medium limes, divided

  • 1/2

    small bunch fresh cilantro

  • 2 pounds

    skinless cod or halibut fillets

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons

    dendê oil (a.k.a. red palm oil)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (optional)

  • 1 (about 13-ounce) can

    full-fat coconut milk

  • 1 cup

    seafood stock

  • Steamed white rice or cilantro rice, for serving

Instructions

  1. Mince 3 garlic cloves. Finely chop 1 medium yellow onion (about 1 1/2 cups). Trim and slice 1 medium red bell pepper and 1 medium orange bell pepper into 1/2-inch-thick strips (about 1 1/2 cup each). Core and cut 2 fresh vine-ripened tomatoes into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups).

  2. Cut 1 medium lime into wedges and reserve for serving. Finely grate the zest of the remaining lime into a small bowl, then juice the lime into the bowl. Pick the leaves and tender stems from 1/2 small bunch fresh cilantro and finely chop until you have 1/2 cup.

  3. Pat 2 pounds cod or halibut fillets dry with paper towels, then cut into 2-inch pieces. Season all over with 3/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt.

  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons dendê oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is softened and the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add both bell peppers and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper if using. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are softened, about 3 minutes.

  5. Add the tomatoes or 1 (13.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato juices are beginning to evaporate, about 3 minutes. Add the lime zest and juice, remaining 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 (about 13-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk, and 1 cup seafood stock. Stir until combined and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

  6. Add the fish and gently pressing down on them with a spoon to submerge in the broth. Cover and return to a simmer. Cook until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add half of the cilantro and gently stir to combine so as not to break up the fish. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  7. Serve with steamed white rice, garnished with the remaining cilantro and lime wedges for squeezing.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover moqueca can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.