Although its historical origins are slightly hazy, moqueca is a Brazilian fish stew, often combining coconut milk, vegetables and fish cooked in red palm oil. Joseph "JJ" Johnson of The Cecil in New York City offers his Asian take on the traditional stew, playing off the cultural exchange occurring with large Asian communities in Brazil. Johnson stays away from red palm oil due to the controversy over its environmental impact, so the resulting moqueca has hues of green from curry paste and puréed spinach instead.
And in lieu of coconut milk, Johnson uses a yuca milk he makes by puréeing raw yuca with water, tomatoes and chiles. Also known as cassava or manioc, yuca is a starchy root vegetable commonly used in South American and African cuisines. By blending it into a smooth purée, the yuca provides the same richness, while also thickening the stew with its starch.
The best part about this stew is that you can make it up to a day in advance to let the flavors meld, while cutting down on cook time the day of serving.
To learn more, read "Bahia Watch."
Moqueca (Brazilian Seafood Stew)
Recipe adapted from Joseph "JJ" Johnson, The Cecil, New York, NY
Yield: 6 to 8 serving
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
For the Moqueca:
2 pounds yuca, peeled and medium diced, divided
2 cups water
1 cup spinach
2 plum tomatoes
1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
¼ cup grapeseed oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, medium diced
1 yellow onion, medium diced
1 celery stalk, medium diced
1 poblano pepper, medium diced
½ cup green curry paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound (1½ cups) okra, trimmed and sliced into ¼-inch rings
8 cups chicken stock
½ cup fish sauce
4 kaffir lime leaves (preferably fresh)
8 ounces salt cod, soaked overnight
8 ounces smoked salmon, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the Prawns:
1 pound (12 medium) head-on prawns, peeled and deveined
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Steamed rice, for serving
Thinly sliced Thai basil, for garnish
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
1. Make the moqueca: In a blender, combine three-quarters of the yuca with the water, spinach, tomatoes and jalapeño. Purée until smooth and set aside.
2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and golden, 1 minute. Add the carrots, onion, celery and poblano pepper, and cook, stirring often, until soft and caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the curry and tomato pastes, and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes.
3. To the pot, add the remaining quarter of the yuca, the reserved yuca purée, the okra, chicken stock, fish sauce and lime leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the yuca is tender and the liquid is thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a small pot, cover the salt cod with cold water. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then immediately drain and rinse with cold water. Repeat this process 2 more times, then roughly chop the salt cod.
5. Add the salt cod and the smoked salmon to the stew, and cook until the fish is opaque, 3 to 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, then keep warm until ready to serve.
6. Prepare the prawns: In a medium bowl, toss the prawns with the parsley, red pepper flakes and lemon zest. Season with salt. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add the prawns and cook, flipping once, until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
7. Assemble the dish: Divide steamed rice between bowls and ladle the stew over it. Top with 2 prawns and garnish with sliced Thai basil and scallions, then serve.