Tag Archives: shellfish

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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The oysters didn’t come alone

11 Sep

Another post related to Florianópolis, but that’s only because I’ve just spent the last weekend there (and it was an extended one, since September, 7th is a holiday – Independence Day).

On our first night, so I’ve told you, we had some fresh oysters for dinner.  But no, that was not all. Considering the variety of seafood you can find in the city, it’s an island after all, oysters alone wouldn’t be enough.  Thus, Manuela (my sister-in-law) prepared an extra treat for us:

Bugatini with prawns, octopuses (octopi?) and mussels

Bugatini with prawns, octopuses (octopi?) and mussels

The shellfish were cooked on a garlic, onion, tomato base to which some chopped scallion and parsley were added.  Pasta was boiled until “al dente” and the shellfish generously placed on top.  Simple to prepare and delicious, after all you don’t need much with fresh sea food.

One extra kick though – red pepper. Peppers of the genus Capsicum, even though spread all over the world, and an integral part of the so called “traditional” cooking of several countries (like Thailand, for example), originated in fact from the tropical areas of Latin America.  Another Latin contribution to the world cooking during the first globalization wave, which occurred after the discovery of the Americas. They belong to the family Solenaceae, along with tomatoes and potatoes, which, not by chance, are also of Latin American origin.  There are several species and varieties of peppers, with different shapes, colors and degrees of burning potential. In Brazil, they were the main seasoning agent employed by the native population before the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers.  Among the most known and cultivated species is Capsicum  baccatum, around here called ladies’ finger.  The burning sensation of a pepper is given by the presence of  capsaicin, which is usually evaluated using the so-called Scoville scale. C. baccatum has na Scoville index between 30,000-50,000, just like the Tabasco pepper, not very high if you consider that a Naga Jolokia can have an index of 1,000,000.

In Brazil such peppers are usually prepared by macerating (or finely chopping) a couple of them, which are then left to mature for a few weeks in olive oil.  A flavoring agent, like garlic or rosemary, may be added.  Whole peppers may also be present, both for flavor as well as for decoration.

Red peppers in olive oil with rosemary

Red peppers in olive oil with rosemary

A few drops of this mixture over your seafood dish will bring up a whole new dimension.  But be careful, one or two extra drops and you may literally spoil your dish.

Just in case, keep a bucket of cold water, or of beer, or of white wine, or of whatever you like to use to extinguish a fire, around.

Know Your Chili Peppers on Foodista

Fresh oysters

10 Sep

I’ve already said (see A paradise in Southern Brazil) that Florianópolis is one of my favorite places in the world, not only because I was born there, but simply because this island is, in fact, a place not to be missed.  If you happen to come to Brazil follow my advice and spend a couple of days visiting Santa Catarina Island (where the city of Florianópolis is located).  I’m quite sure you won’t regret it.

Once in Florianópolis go to the “Mercado”, the city market, situated in the heart of the city.  Take a seat in one of the existing bars, grab a beer and try some of the local specialities.  I personally recommend Box 32, owned by chef Beto Barreiros (we went to highschool together), a place also recommended by internationally recognized French chefs like Claude Troigros and Laurent Suadeau.

External view of the "mercado" (city market) in downtown Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

External view of the "mercado" (city market) in downtown Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Inside the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Inside the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

The market is rich in seafood, offering a variety of crustaceans, molluscs and fish.

Blue crabs, prawns, fish, mussels....The price? R$ 11.00 = US$ 6.00 (price per 1.0 kg = 2.2 pounds)

Blue crabs, prawns, fish, mussels....The price? R$ 11.00 = US$ 6.00 (price per 1.0 kg = 2.2 pounds)

This time my eyes were caught by the fresh live oysters, which were costing only R$ 4.00 a dozen (around US$ 2.2).

Live oysters at the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Live oysters at the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

For dinner?  Oysters, of course.  Although I also like them raw, as it’s when you can really evaluate the freshness and have a taste of the sea filling your mouth,  my sister-in-law (Manuela) prepared them gratiné with some very mild cream cheese sprinkled with a generous amount of parmesan. Each oyster was followed by a drink of a cold sparkling wine (we had the Spanish cava Freixenet).  The perfect end for a perfect day in my hometown (or a perfect beginning, for this was only the first dinner of a long weekend).

Ready for the oven, with some cream chesse and parmesan

Ready for the oven, with some cream cheese and parmesan

Oysters on Foodista

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