A recipe from the Caiçara culture of Southern Brazil, Azul Marinho means Sea Blue: the blue color that characterizes this dish is due to the tannin released by the unripe plantain bananas, as the dish is cooking..
The Caiçaras are people living in the coastal region of Southern Brazil; they are the mixed race society resulting from the crossing of indigenous populations with whites from Europe and blacks from Africa.
The Azul Marinho is one of those regional dishes that retains the Caiçara essence. Caiçara dishes are usually easy to make, served in modest homes but still reminiscent of the tradition of the indigenous in every bite. The Caiçara have integrated much of the indigenous culture; one example of this is the tradition of using the plantain banana in their traditional recipes. The interesting and delicious Azul Marinho was born from the healthy perspective of eating well and eating a wider variety of ingredients.
Prepared by the native population, this dish uses slices of fish found in the region, such as grouper, whiting, mackerel, snapper and mullet (abundant in the winter months, when they come back to the Brazilian shore to spawn). This list varies depending on the location where it is prepared of course. Another traditional requirement of this dish is that it should be cooked in an iron pot.
Yield: 4-5 servings
The Recipe for Azul Marinho
* 2.5 lb. (1.125 kg.) fresh and firm fish such as grouper, sea bass or namorado sandperch cut into large slices of about 1 inch (2.5 cm.)
* 5 very green, unripe plantain bananas
* 2 tablespoons of olive oil
* 1 onion, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 cup tomato peeled and seeded cut coarsely
* 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped finely
* 2 tablespoons chopped parsley soup
* 10 leaves of fresh basil
* 1/4 cup of cassava flour
* Salt to taste
* 3 Malagueta chilis (substitute with red jalapenos or red serranos)
1) Season the fish with salt and set aside. Peel the plantain bananas and cut them lengthwise, at the middle. Some prefer to keep the bananas with the peel on and cooking them with a few lengthwise cuts in the skin; personally, for convenience I prefer removing the plantain peel, then putting them in water while we execute the next steps so the banana will not oxydate.
2) Place the iron pot on the fire and heat the oil. Fry the onion, sliced chilis and the garlic. Add the tomatoes, add salt and half the cilantro. Mix well.
3) Remove the bananas from the cold water, add them to the stew and cover everything with the water where the plantains were soaking. Check the salt and cook until the plantain bananas are tender. Remove from pan and reserve them separately. It is important to cook fish and plantain separately, as their cooking time is very different.
4) Place the fish fillets in the pan and, if needed add more water. Add half the parsley, basil leaves and cook for about 10 minutes or until the fish is tender. Reserve separately the fish and the cooking broth and save them in different bowls.
With more practice making this recipe, you will know how to evaluate the ingredients and know the right point to add the fish and the plantains, so they can cook together: with practice you will be able to fine tune the timing of this dish to the point where they will cook at the same time. More art than science, though…
5) Making the Pirão: mash two thirds of the plantains with a fork in the pan (keep some intact for the final appearance of the dish) and gradually add part of cooking broth (keep a part of broth aside). Mash together until you get a creamy mush. Add the remaining cilantro and parsley and mix. Take the pan to heat and gradually add the cassava flour gradually, stirring constantly to avoid making lumps and avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan, until you reach the desired consistency, on the thicker side for this dish. Remove from heat and adjust the salt.
7) We are now ready to prepare the final presentation: in a serving dish or fancier crock pot, place the fish sauce, cover it with the fish slices, add the remaining plantains, cut in piece, then add the remaining broth.