Tag Archives: shark

Fish, dendê and coconut milk = Moqueca

8 Oct

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in the year 1500 they encountered a rich and varied indigenous culture divided in inumerous tribes, like the tamoios, tupiniquins, potiguaras, tabajaras, etc. Most of the Atlantic coast was dominated by the tupinambás. The culinary culture of these indians included the utilization of the “moquém”, a kind of grill made out of sticks and leaves, covered with ashes, and placed over the fire for cooking or grilling. The first known document describing the “moquém” is a letter of the Portuguese priest Luis de Grã, dated of 1554, where he states that when they wanted to eat human flesh the indians would grill them over the flames in a “moquém”. In 1584, another priest, Fernão de Cardim, comments that not only human flesh, but also fish and potatoes were used by the tupinambás in the preparation of their “moquecas” (something made in the “moquém”)

Tupinambás preparing human flesh with a "moquem" - Drawing by Theodore de Bry around 1540.  Notice the white man in the background: He's Hans Staden, who lived among the tupinambás after his ship sinked along the coast of São Paulo

Tupinambás preparing human flesh over a "moquém" - Drawing by Theodore de Bry (1540). Notice the white man in the background: He's Hans Staden, who lived among the tupinambás after his ship sank near the coast of São Paulo

During the first half of the XVI century, specially due to the lack of labor force required for the production sugarcane, the Portuguese started to introduce slaves from Africa, mainly in the northeastern part of Brasil. With them came several culinary ingredients and practices, among which the use of dendê oil. Dendê comes from a palm tree ( Elaeais guineensis) from the African coast, particularly from the Guinea region. The coconut (Cocos nucifera), on the other hand, also a palm tree from the areas bathed by the Indian Ocean, was taken to Europe by Portuguese travellers and later (around 1530) introduced in Brazil.

Coconut milk and dendê oil

Coconut milk and dendê oil

Mix all these ingredients, along with some extra onions (originally from Europe), tomatoes and bell peppers (both from Latin America) and local sea products, as well as such amazing and diverse culinary cultures (European, African and native Brazilian), and you have a real borderless dish, the “moqueca“.

The present day “moqueca”, which obviously is no longer prepared with human flesh, consists of layers of vegetables (diced or sliced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers) and of fish and/or shellfish (prawns, octopuses, squids, etc), in a clay pot sprinkled with dendê oil and coconut milk.

Moqueca - first layer (diced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers with some coriander)

Moqueca - first layer (diced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers with some coriander)

Moqueca - second layer, fish and/or shellfish (shark in this case)

Moqueca - second layer, fish and/or shellfish (shark in this case)

Moqueca - third layer (more vegetables with the added dendê oil and coconut milk)

Moqueca - third layer (more vegetables with the added dendê oil and coconut milk)

I prepared this shark “moqueca” a few days ago for a couple of friends. It’s not only easy to mount, but it gets ready in around 30-40 min over medium-low fire (a bit longer if the pot is too large). You can mount it ahead and take it to the fire (don’t forget the lid) after your friends arrive, while you are having a cold beer or a glass of white wine (we had a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, León the Tarapacá).

Moqueca on Foodista
Dende Oil on Foodista
Coconut Milk on Foodista

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Steamed Shark Head

8 May

As an Anthony Bourdain fan I couldn’t start this blog without recurring to him for inspiration. This adventure started after I watched the Singapore episode of his “No Reservations” show, in which he takes us into a journey to the Tian Jin Hai Seafood Restaurant.  There we’re introduced to a most unusual dish, the Steamed Shark Head. At that very same moment I took a decision: I have to try this dish.

The next step was a web search. I Googled “steamed shark head” and “Anthony Bourdain” and ended up in Rani’s Blog, a fellow from Indonesia who had taken almost the same decision I did. One big difference though: He decided to go to Tian Jin Hai Seafood, while I decided I would prepare the dish myself. Next step, find the shark heads.

Actually shark fishing has been prohibited in southern Brazil but, for my joy, a friend oceanographer had kept some frozen specimens of Rhinobatos horkelii from previous studies, and he made a couple of heads available to me.

Rhinobatos, also known as “guitarfish” (in this case the Brazilian guitarfish) is not really a shark, but a member of the Rajiformes, a fish order formed by rays and skates, and thus very closely related to sharks.  Taking into account the images presented both by Rani and Anthony Bourdain I suspect they might be using a similar species.  Not sure though.

Rhinobatos horkelii

Rhinobatos horkelii

Following Rani’s indications I cut the upper jaw just before the eyes (the clearer area in the above picture). I took the tough skin off and was ready to start cooking.

I then prepared a mixture of corn oil, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and minced garlic and ginger, which I abundantly brushed all over the head (the shark’s head, of course, not mine). The heads (I actually had two of them) were placed in a porcelain dish and inside a steamer (which I’ve received as a gift from my Chinese daughter Biqi Feng, an exchange student who lived with us for some time).

Chinese steamer

Chinese steamer

The steamer was then obviously placed on a wok with some boiling water and the heads steamed for around 20 minutes (I suspect I may have steamed a bit too long). The heads where removed, placed on a clean dish and garnished with ciboullet, sliced red chillies, and the oils and soy sauce mixture.

Shark Heads - The final dish

Shark Heads - The final dish

Well, it feels like you’re eating jelly (what in fact you are), the real taste being of the spices employed. An experience to have, specially considering the texture, but nothing fantastic. Of course this was “Euclydes’ ray head”, and not “Tian Jin Hai Seafood‘s shark head”. Don’t know of anyone who has tasted both to declare which one is better….even though you can easily imagine. Maybe Tony or Rani can stop by, if they happen to come to Brazil, and settle the question.

Shark Head on FoodistaShark Head

Steamed Shark Head on FoodistaSteamed Shark Head

Bamboo Steamer on FoodistaBamboo Steamer

Shark on Foodista

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