Monday, August 31, 2009


During the latest public television begathon, Himself and I watched a very early episode of The French Chef in which JC made bouillabaisse. She seemed to think skinning an eel is a lot more fun than I do--of course when I did it in culinary school to make waterzooi, my eel was just a shade past its prime. Not surprising to me that there aren't tons of Belgian restaurants around. Maybe I just haven't had waterzooi under the best of circumstances yet.

See that steam rising from the clay pot filled with moqueca, and all those ripples in there? It continued to cook for several minutes after arriving at our table.

Anyway, this weekend we ventured into a Brazilian restaurant at Oxnard Harbor and ordered the dish for which the restaurant is named, Moqueca. This fish stew is essentially the Brazilian version of bouillabaisse, a hearty fisherman's stew. It was loaded with mussels, clams, shrimp and rings of calamari. The clay pot was so hot that the stew continued to cook for several minutes after the dish was set on our table. I imagine that just before it was brought to us, the broth was poured into this rippin' hot pot and raw seafood stirred in. By the time it arrived, the seafood was cooked but not overcooked. No rubber band stew for us, thankfully! The seafood was tender and delectable, the broth robust and flavorful. We ladled it over a bed of rice and seasoned it with pirão, a fish gravy, and pimenta malagueta, which was some serious sinus clearing stuff. I rank it in the "see God" category of peppers. Just the tiniest bit stirred into our moqueca enlivened the dish and added a lovely dimension to an already fine stew. I discovered later that moqueca is made with palm oil, an African influence, which is probably even less healthy than lard. So much for our feeling like we were getting a lean and healthy meal with all that seafood! Well, as long as it's an occasional splash of palm oil and not a regular thing...

Moqueca is another example of dishes that are more or less the same, being prepared in different parts of the world, using the local ingredients. This fisherman's stew was traditionally made of whatever was left after the morning's catch was brought in and sold. There does seem to be disagreement over whether or not adding coconut milk is legit, but essentially, this stew of fish, tomatoes, seasonings and fish stock sounds a lot like bouillabaisse to me. While you serve moqueca over rice, with pirão and malagueta for a boost of flavor, you serve bouillabaisse over grilled French bread and season it with a fiery rouille. These two dishes are at least cousins, I'd say, along with Portugal's caldeirada, Italy's cacciucco, San Francisco's cioppino--and even Belgium's waterzooi, I guess.

This stew is so important that these people named their restaurant for it! All around, it was a wonderful meal served by a gracious staff. Obrigado, Moqueca! We can't wait to return and sample more great Brazilian fare.

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