Brazilian Moqueca in a pot
When Making Brazilian Moqueca, There's One Oil You Cannot Forget
A seafood stew called moqueca is one of the most lavish and complex seafood dishes in Brazilian cuisine, featuring a fusion of Portuguese and African flavor influences.
Moqueca features seafood and shellfish stewed in coconut milk, lime juice, chilies, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, plus an ingredient called dendê oil that really defines the dish.
Dendê oil, or red palm oil, comes from the bright red fruit of the African dendê palm tree. Arriving in Brazil with the African slave trade, it’s now widely used in Brazilian food.
The oil pairs well with umami-rich seafood, adding a floral aroma, a bright reddish-orange hue, and a flavor profile often described as earthy, sweet, bitter, and spicy.
Although the oil is almost unheard of outside of West Africa and Brazil, where dendê palm trees grow, you might be able to find it at specialty food stores, or simply order online.
Moqueca doesn’t taste the same without dendê oil, and alternatives always fall short, but for a substitute in a pinch, use a combo of annatto, coconut, and sesame oils.