Coconut milk (Recipe: moqueca/Brazilian fish stew)
Week in, week out, twice as many people search The Perfect Pantry for information about coconut milk than for any other ingredient.
So I have to ask:
What are you making with coconut milk?
For years I avoided it, believing all I'd read about coconut milk's high fat, saturated fat and calorie content. All true, but it's also high in lauric acid, which has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties (it's the acid found in breast milk), and most important, it's rich in flavor.
Coconut milk mixed with a bit of curry paste forms the basis for Asian-inspired stews and soups. Combine it with peanut butter, and you have the makings of some classic African dishes.
Coconut flan and Caribbean sweets depend on coconut milk. And, for quick weeknight dinners with a touch of world travel, so do I.
What is coconut milk?
Coconut milk is made by grating the hard, white coconut meat, squeezing it to extract the liquid, and thinning the liquid with water. It's the consistency of... well, milk.
How/where to store:
In the original can in the cupboard, indefinitely; leftover must be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will spoil quickly once the can is opened, so use within two days.
More facts about coconut milk, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Coconut milk (Recipe: egg curry)
Moqueca/Brazilian fish stew
Harry Nilsson would love this recipe. "Put the lime in the coconut and stir it all up..." Your guests will love it, too. Moqueca makes a beautiful, colorful presentation, flavorful but not spicy, and adaptable to whatever white fish looks best at the market. The orange color comes from annatto oil, which you can make in minutes. This recipe originated with my friend Peter, of Pousada do Capao in Brazil, but as usual I went off on my own with it. Serves 6.
1/2 tsp annatto seeds
1/4 cup canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
2-1/4 lbs white fish steaks (I use cod loin; you can use halibut, haddock, sea bass, etc.)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1/2 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
8-10 drops of hot sauce (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
1 14-oz can coconut milk
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Make annatto oil: In a small saucepan, combine annatto seeds and canola oil. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the oil turns orange. Remove from heat, strain out the seeds (and discard), and set the oil aside to cool. (This can be done far in advance.)
Combine minced garlic, lime juice and kosher salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut the fish into large chunks, add to the mixing bowl, and rub the fish with the garlic/lime/salt mixture. Set aside to marinate while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
In a large, nonreactive frying pan or enamel-coated cast iron pan (Le Creuset-type), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and bell peppers for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and hot sauce, and cook for 3-4 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to give up their juice. Place the fish in a single layer on top of the mixture in the pan. Sprinkle on the scallions and cilantro, then pour on the annatto oil and coconut milk.
Reduce heat to low. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pot gently from time to time to make sure the fish isn't sticking, and carefully stirring the liquids around the fish, for 20 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed with more salt, black pepper, lime juice or hot sauce.
Serve hot, with steamed rice and hot pepper sauce.
Other recipes that use coconut milk:
Coconut milk fudge, from Smitten Kitchen
Chicken adobo in coconut milk, from Apple Pie, Patis, and Pate
Spicy pumpkin soup with coconut milk, from Gluten-Free Goddess
Coconut chocolate pudding, from 101 Cookbooks
Spicy garlic shrimp with coconut rice, from Simply Recipes