Before I forget (because I already forgot once and posted this recipe without it), be sure to check out my essay “Shelling Peas & Snapping Beans“at Flavorful Memories. Leslie runs a business and keeps a beautiful blog dedicated to preserving memories through and about food.
This fish stew was a big leap forward for our family in terms of how we approach seafood. I cannot explain why, at least not in any rational, reasonable manner, but John and I both have always been turned off by the idea of fish stew. Maybe I did not believe it would hold its shape, and instead would dissolve into a pile of mush. Maybe I worried it would taste like the shrimp boils of the deep South, which I have never cared for. Whatever the reason I had avoided them.
Having said all that you are probably wondering why I tried this recipe, and there is no good answer other than I felt I should. It was just time to find out if we were right.
Boy were we wrong. Everyone loved this.
This stew actually comes from a casserole book, and I guess it depends on your definition of casserole as to whether it it is a casserole or a stew. To me (but obviously not to the author of the book) a casserole should be able to be eaten as is, with no additional components, and it also should not be very soupy. This fails on both counts because it is soupy and it needs to be served with rice. In my book that is a stew, so I changed the name. I also added (the second night–the recipe made so much broth that I made the dish with fresh fish and veggies in the same broth the second night) sliced zucchini rounds and wedges of fresh, local tomatoes–and I would keep these changes the next time I make this.
And yes if you are wondering there will be a next time. And you can also expect to see more experimentation with braised or stewed fish in the future on this blog.
A note about the oil: According to Wright, the dendê oil is important but difficult to find, so he suggests a walnut oil based sub. I had neither, so after thinking about the other flavors, I used half olive oil and half Styrian pumpkin seed oil, which has a very strong, almost nutty flavor, with some paprika mixed it. I cannot speak for its authenticity, but the sub worked fine.
- 2 T red palm (dendê) oil or sub walnut oil w/ pinch paprika or sub 1 T olive oil mixed with 1 T Styrian pumpkin seed oil w/ pinch of paprika
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1½ lbs tomatoes, seeds gently squeezed out (I was not thorough), cut into wedges (the more freshly picked the better)
- 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 fresh hot pepper, chopped, optional (we just used cayenne on the finished dish)
- 2 lbs mahi mahi, cut into sized sized chunks (can sub yellowtail or sea bass)
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk
- 2-3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 T chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro (I used cilantro)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 small-medium zucchini, sliced into moderately thick rounds
- 2-3 small-medium sized tomatoes, sliced into wedges
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Place the onion, tomatoes, garlic and chile pepper (if using) in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
- The original recipe of course calls for a stovetop-safe casserole dish; I used a large oven-safe skillet. However, for the recipe as written, I think a 5-6 quart Dutch oven would work best. Whichever pan you choose, make sure it is safe on the stove and in the oven. Heat it up over medium heat, adding the oil when it gets hot. Add the paprika (if using) and when the oil shimmers, add the onion-tomato mixture.
- Cook for 5 minutes at a brisk simmer and add the zucchini. Cook until the zucchini are getting tender but are still firm. Mix in the coconut milk, lemon juice, parsley or cilantro and salt/pepper to taste. Add the fish and the tomato wedges and mix gently. Cover firmly with foil or with a heavy lid and place in the oven. Bake until the fish begins to flake, about 15 minutes. Serve with a fluffy long grain rice such as Basmati.
For another take on Brazilian seafood stew with coconut milk, be sure to check out my Moqueca with Potatoes and Mushrooms!: