moqueca capixaba

by Heguiberto on April 9, 2010

I’ve already been feeling a bit homesick for Brazil, being back from my vacation there for little over a month so I decided to make moqueca capixaba, a traditional “fish stew,” to cheer myself up. It’s always popular, both here and back in Brazil.

moqueca capixaba with rice and crab pirão

I put the dish together for a dinner party recently with a number of friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen in a while. I wasn’t aware that we were also celebrating my belated birthday that night. Grazie mille, Fabiola, for the lovely Zabaglione cake and the almond cookies you brought from Stella Pastry in North Beach. And thank you, John, for the great spatter guard for the kitchen. I love to have new gadgets around. This tool will be particularly useful the next time I make mirchi bajji.

the dried version of urucum: colorau from Brazil

My actual birthday was spent flying over the Amazon forest on a 767 jet, drinking cheap red wine, and trying to sleep through as much of the ten hour flight as possible. I feel so George Clooney in Up in the Air.

Moqueca capixaba is the dish of Espírito Santo and rivals a superficially similar one from Bahia named moqueca baiana. The difference is that moqueca capixaba is lighter than moqueca baiana because coconut milk and plam oil (óleo de dendê) aren’t used. It’s prepared with urucum (similar to Mexican achiote), a powder that imparts a redish color and a tad of smokiness to the food. When you have this in Brazil, moquecas capixabas are served in beautiful, locally made clay pots. [To see an example of the pots being made, check out this earlier post at the bottom of the page.]

I made this recipe for a party of ten people, so reduce the amounts of everything if you are going to prepare it for fewer. Brazilians usually use sea bass or grouper for this dish. I used wild caught Pacific cod, which tastes great but the fish is so delicate that it falls apart with cooking. Halibut would work too.

Moqueca Capixaba

3½ lbs wild caught Pacific cod steaks
Juice of two limes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp urucum powder(AKA colorau)
2 bunches chopped cilantro
2 bunches chopped scallions
1 medium onion, minced
1 lb cleaned deveined medium shrimp
½ cup olive oil
1½ lbs chopped skinless Roma tomatoes
Crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced

some key ingredients for moqueca capixaba

Rinse cod fish and pat dry. Place fish in a bowl then add salt, pepper and lime juice. Let stand for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel tomatoes by cutting off the top woody part and make a cross cut at the other end. Dip them in boiling water for a minute or so until skin curls. Remove from water. Let tomatoes cool. Remove skin then chop and place in a bowl.

it's important not to stir the fish to avoid breakage

Using a wide deep skillet, add three tablespoons of olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add urucum powder (colorau) and stir for a minute or so to tint red. Stir to avoid burning or sticking.
Make a layer of tomato, scallion and cilantro at the bottom of the pan (use about half of the cilantro and scallion for this). Add cod fish in one single layer above tomatoes. Drizzle remaining fish juices over everything. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste. Add remaining cilantro, tomato, scallion and olive oil. Cover pan and cook for about 15 minutes in high heat. Avoid stirring to prevent fish from breaking apart. Instead shake pan a few times while cooking to gently mix. For the last minute scatter shrimp over stew and re-cover. When shrimp are done, the dish is ready.

Serve with white rice and crab pirão, made the same way as shrimp pirão by just substituting crab for shrimp.


We had this dish for the New Year’s Eve. I went to my local fish market for the whole red snapper. They cleaned and filleted it for me on the spot. I kept the bones to fry as an exciting treat. The fish flesh itself became this wonderful dish.

red snapper with clam and mussel sauce

It stuck to my pan a bit which made it tough to have the final product look cute. One option could have been to use more oil but I’d already decided to fry the bones, so it seemed excessive. It tasted damn fine, despite falling apart and sticking to the pan a little.

The sauce is based on a recipe our friend Kristen prepared for us before. I added mussels and cherry tomatoesto it. It was good but maybe the tomatoes were too acidic. Next time I’m gonna leave them out.

sautéing red snapper

Sautéd Red Snapper Fillets in Garlicky Clam and Mussel Sauce

2 large red snapper fillets, skin on
½ lb live mussels in shells or more, cleaned with “beards” removed
½ lb live clams in shells or more, cleaned
½ lb ripe cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
1 shallot, minced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup dry white wine
Red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

How to:

Add 2 tablespoon of olive oil to a pan over medium temperature. Sauté the garlic and shallots until translucent. Turn heat to high then add tomatoes, salt, pepper and wine. Cook with pan uncovered for a couple of minutes to allow sauce to develop. Add clams and mussels. Cover pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until shells open. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, using a cast iron pan or a skillet, heat remaining oil on high. Place red snapper fillet, flesh side down, and cook for about 5 minutes. Using a spatula flip onto skin side and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from pan.

Serve fish plated with a ladle of clam mussel sauce. Drizzle with some extra olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese to finish. We served this with a side of mushrooms with red quinoa.

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