Coastal regions specialize in these one-pot wonders
Every coastal region around the world has a signature seafood soup. Each one is the essence of the sea and the community surrounding it. Historically, the soups were made from the fisherman’s less desirable catch. Simmered in a pot with what they had on hand, it stretched the harvest to feed a family.
My grandma’s conch chowder was our family’s favorite seafood soup, back when harvesting queen conch was legal in Florida. She used a meat grinder to tenderize the conch. The peppers, onions and celery went through the meat grinder as well, mincing the vegetables more finely than she could by hand. She sautéed them in a giant pot with bacon and herbs, and it smelled divine as she layered in all the ingredients. She always made enough for family, friends and neighbors. It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted that soup, but her recipe perfectly distills what I think of as Indian River cuisine.
Over the years, I’ve collected lots of recipes for other regional seafood soups. Let’s be honest, you really can’t go wrong with fresh seafood in a delicious, aromatic broth. Some are outstanding, like Julia Child’s famous bouillabaisse and Paul Prudhomme’s gumbo. But equally good are the recipes I’ve learned from home cooks and fishermen, like my husband’s favorite tom yum soup and the rich salmon chowder I learned to make in Alaska.
My most recent discovery is so delicious I had to share it — a Brazilian fisherman’s stew called moqueca. It’s bursting with tropical flavor and it’s surprisingly easy to make. You can use whatever combination of seafood is available. My latest batch had a spiny lobster tail, a handful of Key West pink shrimp and fresh pompano, a fish that I highly recommend for any seafood soup, because it holds up beautifully and does not dry out. One thing that sets moqueca apart from other seafood stews is the method of marinating the seafood in salt, garlic and lime juice, before adding it to the pot. It’s amazing how much flavor this imparts into the dish. Another hallmark of moqueca is red palm oil, which adds a distinct, almost smoky flavor and vibrant hue. If you can’t find it, substitute coconut oil to sauté the peppers and onions. Swirl in coconut milk and add the seafood just before serving. It’s ready in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice, but it tastes like it took all day.
For all of their differences, every type of fisherman’s soup performs the same feat — spinning a small amount of seafood into a satisfying one-pot wonder that feeds a crowd. I hope this inspires you to try moqueca as well as other regional soups this winter, using the bounty of our local seafood.
Brazilian Seafood Stew
2 pounds seafood [any firm, white fish
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
2 tablespoons red palm oil or coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 10-oz. can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chilies
1 bottle clam juice
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
Steamed white rice, diced avocado [for serving]
Cut the seafood into bite-sized pieces. Toss with garlic, salt, pepper and one tablespoon lime juice. Cover and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium. Sauté the onion. Once soft, add the peppers. Cook about 5-7 minutes or until softened.
Stir in the Ro-Tel and cook for another 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the clam juice and half the cilantro. Once it comes to a simmer, slowly stir in the coconut milk. Allow it to return to a simmer with a few small bubbles at the surface. Add the seafood, put a lid on the pot, and turn off the heat. Allow to sit 8-10 minutes. Open the lid, give the stew a good stir. The seafood should be plump and cooked tender. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of lime juice.
Serve over rice, if you like, and garnish with the remaining cilantro, diced avocado, and either the pepper sauce that follows or your favorite hot sauce.
1/2 cup pickled hot cherry peppers
1/4 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
A pinch of sugar and salt, to taste
Blend the ingredients in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer to a small serving dish or jar to serve.
Danielle Rose is a seventh-generation Florida gardener and fisherwoman and descendant of the prodigious Summerlin family. A graduate of the University of Florida, she loves gathering friends and family around the table for homegrown food.