To go with the feijoada I posted about last, I wanted a light(ish) and more refined starter. Most of the food I cook is very far from refined, let’s face it, and the Afro-Brazilian dishes I enjoy the most tend to be hearty and robust. But I thought moqueca, the Bahian coconut-based fish and seafood stew, might be open to a bit of refinement.

I know there are many different variants of moqueca in Brazil but the kind I’m most familiar with is from Bahia in the North and mixes indigenous with African flavours. I had it when I was in Brazil – although I was in Rio de Janeiro, so I’m sure my Bahian friends will scoff at its authenticity – and it was a truly enormous pan heaped with all manner of seafood, swimming in a spicy lake of coconut broth and with orange dendê oil lapping around the edges. It was a bowl to be reckoned with and as I recall two hungry people could hardly make a dent in it.

But the essence of the dish is, like many a seafood soup, good stock and fresh fish. So I decided to make mini moquecas with a vibrant sauce replacing the traditional soupy stew, and the seafood cooked separately. If I wanted a full-on Bahian experience this might not be the way to go but as the opener to a Brazilian meal, it turned out pretty flavoursome and, crucially, not destructively heavy. We served the moqueca with homemade pão de queijo.

Seafood moqueca

  • 12 large prawns, whole
  • a knob of ginger
  • bunch of cilantro
  • 2 smallish fillets of firm white fish (haddock, cod or similar)
  • 100 g white crab meat
  • 2 tsp orange crab meat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 spring onions/scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp dendê oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 long green chillies, finely chopped
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small can of coconut milk
  • juice of 1 lime

First peel the shrimp. Put the meat back in the fridge for now and put the heads and shells into a pot with 3 cups of water. Cut the bottom parts of the stalks off the cilantro, wash thoroughly, and add to the pot along with the knob of lightly bashed ginger. Bring to the boil and simmer until reduced to 1 cup. Strain – remembering you want the liquidy stuff not the solid bits! We’ve probably all done that wrong at least once and it is soooo demoralising.

Next, heat the dendê oil in a pot and sauté the onion and peppers until soft. Add garlic and chillies and cook for another minute, until not raw smelling. Add tomatoes and cook until beginning to dry out. Now add the shrimp stock, coconut milk and a spoonful of orange crab meat and simmer for ten minutes.

To finish the moqueca sauce, add the lime juice and cilantro leaves and check for seasoning. To finish the dish, sauté the shrimp and fish (or you could poach them in some more shrimp stock if you have extra). Ladle some sauce into a small bowl, pile fish, shrimp and white crab meat on top, and sprinkle with scallion slices.

Serves 3-4