Black pottery & the secret of Moqueca

One can see straight away from their softly organic forms, highly individual irregularities and the deep black of the clay that they’ve been crafted with care. Every single one of them. The first time I saw these shiny black pots made for generations by the inhabitants of La Chamba in Tolima, Columbia, I had to restrain myself from buying the whole set on the spot. They make them as they have done for centuries, changing little in the process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfMN6KIKHl0

But that was then, and I have recently allowed myself just one, a medium sized oval shaped one with a heavy lid. It’s the pot I constantly reach for and even then, I still can’t get over the beauty of its simplicity.
The first night I cooked with it I knew what I had to make. Over the years I’d been (on and off) trying to recreate the intensity of flavour I’d first experienced in a Brazilian dish called Moqueca when I was in Salvador de Bahia, but I’d never quite managed. Something was always missing… And once I saw the pot I knew what. One needed this particular clay vessel to steam the peppers in this particular way. This was the secret to all that flavour.

Moqueca is a dish native to Brazil and has two varieties: Moqueca Baiana (from the northeastern state of Bahia) and Moqueca Capixaba (from the southeastern state of Espirito Santo). The main difference between them is the use of coconut and palm oil which is what they use in Bahia and the recipe below. Don’t think that you can leave either of these out: it’s the palm oil that lends the dish its deep orange hues.
We suggest you use monkfish rather than cod because the meat is firmer, but if you find its flavour too pronounced, you could substitute red mullet. Our recipe also includes shrimp and squid rings. However, only add these if you can buy them fresh (if you can’t, throw in some extra monkfish). Frozen seafood loses its flavour and contains too much water which will change the texture of the sauce. It’s really the freshness of the ingredients that makes this dish so spectacular.
You can buy your own Black pottery  from Raw Materials in Amsterdam

Photo by Rene Mesman, styling by Hanna van der Bos, cooked by Ans de Vree

Recipe Moqueca Baiana
(for 4 persons)

Ingredients
4 pieces of monkfish (total 400g)
300g large, fresh shrimp or prawns without their heads
300g fresh squid rings
300ml fish stock
200ml coconut milk
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
2 small yellow onions, sliced
1 shallot, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 lime
1 red pepper, finely chopped
2 tbsp (sustainable) palm oil
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely minced
Pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Place the monk fish in a bowl and cover with lime juice, salt, pepper and garlic
  • Place squid and shrimp in a second bowl and season with salt and pepper
  • Put the clay pot over medium heat to warm the oil before turning down the heat and adding half the onion and pepper. Place the pieces of your marinated white
  • Turn the heat to low, add the half of the onion and bell pepper rings there and lay the marinated pieces of fish on top.
  • On top of this, add another layer of onion and pepper and arrange the tomato slices as the last layer. Sprinkle this with the parsley and red pepper.
  • Now pour in the fish stock and coconut milk, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes on a low heat.
  • Once the pepper is soft add the prawns and squid rings and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Before serving add a teaspoon of coconut milk. Serve with white rice.

 

 

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