Brazilian Fish Stew (2)

Last night I made a Brazilian fish stew. I call it “Brazilian Fish Stew (2)” so as not to confuse it with “Brazilian Fish Stew (1).”

I had an assortment of fishy bits in the freezer and I wanted to make a nice spicy soup or stew. The older Brazilian fish stew recipe beckoned, but I felt like trying something new. I researched many recipes, but the only one that really caught my eye was a bit problematic — it listed the method but did not list the ingredients.

I did more research. In the end, I extrapolated and interpolated until I had a recipe of my own that reasonably satisfies my idea of what this stew should be like. The only thing missing is dendê oil — a very rich red palm oil that apparently is both very healthy (full of vitamins and bad-cholesterol lowering stuff) and deadly (very high in saturated fats). As my hybrid recipe uses coconut milk, and is inspired by the northern Bahia region’s fish stew recipes, dendê oil would normally be a key component. But for some odd reason I just didn’t have any laying around. Go figure.

As I have never actually been to Brazil, and have eaten in few Brazilian restaurants, I don’t know if this recipe accurately reflects the way people there cook and eat. Talvez alguém de Brasil pode deixar-nos saber?

Please note: quantities in the recipe below are all approximate, as I was improvising quite a bit. Also, this is arguably more of a soup than a stew. You can argue about it while I go eat.

so yummy!


  • 2 cups of assorted firm, white-fleshed seafood, such as cod, grouper, sole, scallops, and shrimp.
  • juice of one lime.
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced and divided into two portions.
  • 1 small onion, diced.
  • 1 red or green sweet pepper, half of it diced, half cut into julienne slivers (separate the portions).
  • 2 chiles (jalapeno, or similar), one of them diced, one slivered. (Again, separate the portions, and seed them, but leave some seeds for heat — the more seeds, the more heat.)
  • 1 medium carrot, diced.
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, with their juice.
  • 3 cups chicken stock.
  • A few shots of bottled cayenne or similar hot pepper sauce (optional).
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk.
  • 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced.
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro.
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley.


First, marinate the fish.

  • Cut the fish into bite-size pieces, about an inch square.
  • If using shrimp, slice them in half, lengthwise (so they are thin “strips o’ shrimp”)
  • Add half of the garlic, and the lime juice.
  • Toss to coat, and put in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes. (Tip: put it in a plastic bag and squeeze all the air out.)

Next, make the refogado (which is to Brazilian food what sofrito is to Spanish food — a cooked-down aromatic of onions and other tasty things).

  • Warm about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a deep soup pot, and add the onions, the chopped sweet pepper, chopped chile, and carrot. (Put the sliced chile and sweet pepper aside, for later.) Cook over low heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the garlic and cook slowly for another ten minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for another ten minutes, until the refogado is reduced to a nice deep red aromatic paste. (Tip: while the refogado is cooking you can be putting together a nice after-dinner salad…)

Next, soup it up!

  • Add the stock to the refogado and bring to a boil. Stir well.
  • Lower heat and simmer for ten minutes.
  • Using a hand blender, blend the soup to make a coarse puree. Alternatively, let it cool a bit and transfer to a food processor and coarsely blend.
  • Test for heat. If you’d like it to be zingier, add some bottled hot pepper sauce — but remember, you will also add a raw chili at the end of the process.
  • Add the coconut milk and mix well. Return to a medium boil.
  • Add the seafood (marinade and all). Cook stirring gently for three minutes.
  • Add the remaining chili, sweet pepper, green onions, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another two or three minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

Technical and creative notes: The thinking behind this recipe is that it is a study in contrasts. The refogado gives the stew base a rich, deeply-cooked characteristic that is in contrast with the brightness of the raw chiles, sweet peppers, green onions, and herbs that are added at the end. Also, the sweetness of the coconut milk contrast with the acidity of the tomatoes and the lime juice, and the fiery heat of the chiles.

6 thoughts on “Brazilian Fish Stew (2)

  1. Looks “slurp” enough to me!

    I love fish soups.

    I never thought of mixing Brazilian/Mexican/South American cuisine with it. Sounds good!

    Slurp! Slurp!

  2. Fish stew in Portugal is known as Cataplana (which is actually the name of the clam shaped pot it is cooked in). I always tried to have one when I was there (if the budget permitted), and it was always delicious. Probably not much different from your fish stew, except they put all different kinds of seafood in, everything from mussels to squid to cod.

    For some reason cooking with fish always makes me nervous, but I may have to try your recipe!

  3. Lambic, I had a Cataplana in Tavira, Portugal, and it was delicious! It was different from my recipe primarily in that (a) it did not use coconut milk, (b) it was not as piquante, and (c) it had rice in it.

    Wow, I’ll never forget that big ball of aromatic steam that rose up to the ceiling when the waiter opened the lid. Mmmmmm!

  4. First I have to say both your stews look really delicious. Felicitations au chef!
    Now to what I know about brazilian fish stews: there are so many different ways of doing it that I guess everything goes. I come from São Paulo and fish stews are not as popular down there as it is in other parts of the country. Brazil being such a big country with some many different types of influences makes every tradicional recipe to have countless variations. Who can keep track of them all??
    The one I usually do at home doesn’t take the chicken broth so it is a lot more coarse. I usually serve it with rice and farofa. It is basically all the ingredients you mentioned (except the carrot) sprinkled with a lot of extra virgin olive oil (I wish I could find dende somewhere around here but… nope)and cucunut milk.
    It is my favorite dish to do when we have company and I have a fishy set of plates very similar to yours where I usually serve it. ;)


  5. Correction:
    If you bought your set of plates a couple of years ago at Stokes I guess they’re exactly the same. ;)


  6. I knew I was getting away from Brazilian tradition with the carrots, but I wanted to dip a spoon into the classic French technique as well, and I figured the carrot would add some body and sweetness to the broth.

    The dishes were a gift to Martine, several years ago (before I knew her), so I don’t know where they’re from.

    As you say, it is difficult to nail down a specific “typical” recipe from a country as big and diverse as Brazil, which is why I didn’t mind improvising. It’s like asking “what is the recipe for Canadian Fish stew?” That depends on if you mean west, north, or east coasts, and each of those can be subdivided many times.

    Here’s to diversity! :-)

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