Vatapá is one of the culinary icons of the Bahian Reconcavo, but is also troubled by a controversy about its origin, dotted with local variations and uncertainties. About this dish presented here and on most websites and cookbooks, only thing for sure is its african-Bahian heritage; basically, as they say whoever wants vatapá, needs to first find the cornmeal, then the dendê (palm oil).
Besides the evident Bahian signature, Vatapá has become popular and well appreciated in Amapá and Pará states, with their indigenous touch added, seen in the tacacá as an example.
Some even suggest that the Vatapá actually began in Portuguese cuisine and later was adopted by the people of the recôncavo region which then, in the following centuries adapted the recipe to use local ingredients (from the African culture), becoming a plate part of the "comida de azeite" in reference to the dendê palm oil, a typical element from the african cuisine of Brazil; this theory is entirely possible in a multi-ethnic country like this one. Regardless of this or that, vatapá today is very Brazilian, a legacy for the national list of recipes with a touch from the african culture of Bahia.
Vatapá should be thick, firm, but still always creamy. Add at the end of preparation the fish and whole shrimp to give the dish its essence. The vatapá is always seen as the filling of the acarajé, but if you make it for this purpose, use only shrimp, dried and fresh. As the price of grouper fluctuates, you can replace it with hake or other saltwater fish with white and firm flesh. It is common to find even the vatapá with chicken; in this case, use the breast cooked and shredded, and delete the fresh prawns. By the Northeast, it comes deliciously prepared with rice flour, cassava or maize flour instead of bread. There is even a recipe for a sophisticated vatapá: in place of fresh fish, it takes desalted cod: serve with white rice and always a good okra cozidinho or chayote.
Yield: 8 servings
The Bahian Vatapá
* 2 lb. (950 g.) grouper fish, diced
* 1/2 cup (125 ml.) Dendê palm oil
* 2 lb. (950 g.) Medium size shrimp, raw, cleaned and deveined
* 1 lb. (450 g.) dried salted shrimp
* 1 cup roasted peanuts and without skin
* 1 cup roasted cashew nuts
* 4 large white onions
* 3 cloves garlic
* 2 lemons
* 6 red tomatoes, seeds removed
* 1 cup (250 ml.) coconut milk
* 8 salty breads, just for the center (peel the outer crust)
* 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger
* 1/4 cup (50 ml.) olive oil
* 1 Scallion
* Salt, pepper
* Red pepper, black pepper and coriander to taste
1) Put the bread to soak in the coconut milk.
2) Season the fish and the fresh shrimp with salt, black pepper, lemon juice and set aside. Clean the dried shrimp, discarding shells and heads and process with your kitchen grinder along with with cashews and roasted peanuts until you get a coarse powder. Reserve.
3) Now in the blender: coarsely liquefy the bread with coconut milk and half the fish and fresh prawns. Also add the quartered onions, quartered tomatoes, garlic, chives, red pepper and cilantro and blend to a paste. Reserve for 20 minutes so that the spices and flavors combine.
4) Let's prepare a large saucepan, in it warm up the olive oil and palm oil and pour in the blended mixture with bread, fish, shrimp and spices. With a wooden spoon, stir occasionally to avoid lumps.
5) Simmer for about ten minutes then add the rest of the fish and fresh shrimp and the grated ginger. Allow to simmer for ten minutes over medium heat.
6) Lastly add the peanut, cashew nuts and dried shrimps powder, stir now gently, to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot, and simmer for another five minutes.
Turn the burner off, then let your vatapa rest for 6-7 minutes and, we will serve.