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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 {gluten-free}

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More coconut milk recipes:
Avocado coconut milk ice cream, from The Perfect Pantry
Chicken satay, from The Perfect Pantry
Coconut milk fudge, from Smitten Kitchen
Coconut chocolate pudding, from 101 Cookbooks

Make this Brazilian fish stew with any white fish that looks good at the market.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I love curry with a little bit of coconut cream for a better consistency! yes, some people here still do it the traditional way by squeezing the grated coconut to extract the juice but I am so lazy I bought ready made :p

Beautiful dish...like sunshine to me!
Your blog is lovely and very instructive--I've placed you in my blog list!

Lydia, this looks so vibrant! The color of the dish just pops!

Love, love, love coconut milk, but don't cook with it much due to the high fat content. Good to know about the lauric acid though, helps to balance things out a bit. Recently I discovered a fast & fabulous way to prepare shrimp, using, of all things, coconut milk (the shrimp were to die for). Best way I've found to cook shrimp, other than on the grill!

Coconut milk is definitely a pantry staple! I usually take the Asian curry route with it, but I like this recipe a lot! Ever since having a Brazilian neighbor, I've always wanted to try this dish.

I love the bright orange color of that stew!

Coconut milk...I use it for Southern Indian curries, and recently used it to make tender coconut ice cream, which was the most fabulous way I have used coconut milk yet.

I, too, have shied from coconut milk for the same reason. But, everything is moderation, and I need to start it using it -- in moderation. Moqueca is a beautiful combination of flavors, all of which I adore.

Oh I want this stew RIGHT now. I love coconut milk in curries, as a dairy-free alternative to cream for ice cream and baking, in smoothies, you name it.

This is great. Some time ago, I got the recipe from Simply Recipes. Now, I have your recipe, which I'll save, too. I've been wanting to make this recipe. I just need to go buy the ingredients.


I was flipping through the pages on Food and Wine magazine, this is the exact recipe I was captivated with! I recall their recipe uses squid as well, served over fragrant coconut rice with cashew nuts. Delicious looking! Your dish looks simply sumptious!

I love coconut milk and will use it any chance I get and I love this recipe it just sounds and looks beautiful.

Noobcook, I have a few cans of coconut cream in the pantry, too. Here, coconut milk is much easier to find.

Momgateway, Anh: the color of this dish really is sunshine!

Sandie, I've bookmarked that coconut shrimp recipe; it looks delicious.

Julia, my other favorite use for coconut milk is the avocado ice cream I posted a few months ago. And curries, of course.

Nupur, coconut milk ice cream -- so wonderful!

Joan, this is a great variation on a basic fish stew, a bit exotic but using ingredients readily available in the grocery store.

Alta, I've never tried coconut milk in smoothies. What a great idea.

Paz, Audre: there are many variations on moqueca, but they are all basically the same. Hope you'll try this version. I love it.

Kim, this is both, delicious and beautiful. My photos don't do it justice.

Parabéns pelo seu blog, sou brasileiro e fico bastante contente ao ver a cozinha do Brasil sendo praticada mundo a fora. Um abraço grande

The misleading and sensationalist articles about health in mass media have convinced people to eat very unhealthy foods that are far worse for your health than coconut milk ever was or could be.
I love cooking with coconut milk myself. So long as you don't have it too often, it's a great ingredient just like many other things. :)

Diego, obrigada!

Murasaki, I agree, we definitely have too much information and much of it is designed to lead us away from traditional foods and ways of combining foods that are practiced in much healthier societies. All ingredients in moderation.

I was inspired to make this amazing dish last night. At the grocery, I couldn't find annatto seeds, so I used turmeric instead, and it turned out beautiful!

Thanks for the great recipe. It's going to go on the "must make again and soon" list.

Amy, great idea to substitute turmeric for the color! Did you also add the oil? I'm so glad you liked this. If you have time, you can order the annatto seeds online from Penzeys or The Spice House.

I love coconut milk. I think it is a wonderful foundation to curries, soups and other sauces. Your Brazilian Fish stew is proof at the coconut milk's versatility. Thanks for sharing.

Simply awesome. I love coconut milk and the combination of fish and the silky taste of the coconut milk is just so good!

Velva, PreeOccupied: I love coconut milk, too! I can't imagine this fish stew without it.

I saw your photo on FoodGawker and it looks delicious!

I use it for Southern Indian curries, and recently used it to make tender coconut ice cream, which was the most fabulous way I have used coconut milk yet.

I use coconut milk added with some water when I cook rice. We also use it in smoothies - yum!

Lydia, this looks so tasty!!! I can't wait to make it. I love coconut milk and the richness it adds to any dish. Cheers!

I just finished cooking this and I am so disappointed. I could cry right now.

I am from Brazil and I was so excited to see this. While it smells very much the same, it doesn't taste anything like it.

I have tried to add more seasoning...and it is still tastes watering.


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