This is a rich, earthy dish that originates in the Bahia region of Brazil.  Any mild white fish can be used: cod is traditional, and has a more distinctive taste due to the natural oils in the fish; halibut is also excellent, as is grouper.  The original recipe calls for leaving the skins on the fillets, which creates a fishier-tasting stew.  This recipe recommends skinless, boneless fillets; they will break apart during the cooking process.  Serves 6 accompanied by rice –  a robust and warming meal for autumn or winter evenings.

You will need:

  • 6 six-ounce fillets of halibut, cod or grouper
  • 2 handfuls of fresh cilantro
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 bulb of garlic, peeled (6 or 8 cloves)
  • 3 medium onions, 2 chopped, 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 thirteen-ounce can of coconut milk
  • olive oil
  • 3 or 4 ripe plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh chilies, minced or ground (optional)

1.  Marinate the fish: chop up 1/3 of the cilantro and mix it with the lime juice, salt, and garlic in a medium-sized bowl.  Rinse the fillets in cold water and add them to the marinade, making sure they are all well coated.  Set the bowl aside at room temperature for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the stew.

2.  Combine the chopped onion and the coconut milk in a blender or food processor, and pulse to a puree.  Set this mixture aside.

3.  Heat a healthy splash of olive oil in a heavy, deep pan.  When the oil is hot, add the tomatoes and half of the remaining cilantro and cook until the tomatoes soften and begin to turn to sauce. 

4.  Add the coconut-onion puree to the tomatoes, along with salt and pepper to taste.  For a spicier, more warming stew, add a few minced chilies.  Bring the entire mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it thicken.

5.  When the stew has reached a nice consistency, take the fillets out of the marinade one by one and nestle them into the stew.  Pour the remaining marinade over the top, along with the rest of the cilantro.  Allow the stew to boil again, and then reduce the heat once more and let it thicken.  Cook 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is fully cooked through; spoon the sauce over the fish throughout the cooking process.

6.  Near the end of the process, add the sliced onion to the top.  The stew can be garnished with more fresh cilantro or tomato slices; flavored oils also make a nice touch.  Adjust the seasonings and serve.

Brazilian Fish Stew
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