Fish Vatapá (Vatapá de peixe)

Many say Vatapá is more Portuguese than African, others will claim it's Luso-Indo-African; while we know to a certain degree it is a combination of those three cultures the fact remains: I am a Vatapá lover and today I wish to share my recipe for this dish, this time with fish… You will see these influences within the sauce: some will thicken the sauce with okra which relates to african cuisine, then some use bread (very Bahia, and Portugal style).

The good news here is, Vatapá is a dish that allows many variations; the basic recipe requires peanuts, dried shrimp, coconut milk, dendê (brazilian palm oil) and some kind of thickening ingredient. As an example, in the book "the cooking in Bahia," Manuel Querino, first published in 1928, the Vatapá is first seen as a recipe with chicken and not fish, which is thickened with rice flour and does not use peanuts or cashews.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Total time:

The Fish Vatapá

* 1 Italian bread loaf (only the inside, crust removed)
* 1 cup milk mixed with 1 cup water
* 3 whole red snapper fish (4.4 lb. or 2 kg), cleaned, cut in squares with skin left on
* 1 lemon
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed 25 g salt (about a tablespoon) and 2 chilis
* 1/2 lb (500 g) whole dried shrimp
* 135 g of roasted peanuts without skin
* 100 g roasted cashew nuts
* 4 tablespoons of olive oil
* 2 onions, chopped
* 2 tomatoes, chopped
* 80 g of pepper (green and red) chopped
* 2 cups water
* 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
* 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
* 1 cup coconut milk
* 1/2 cup dendê (Brazilian palm oil)


1) Place the bread crumbs in a bowl then add the water and milk. Let the bread soak while we execute the following steps. Wash the fish with water and lemon juice, then drain well. Season with pressed garlic, salt and pepper and let it marinate for about 1 hour.

2) Wash the prawns and clean them, remove their shells and legs. Separately reserve the heads. Leave the shrimp in water.

3) Roast the shrimp heads in the oven to dry - roast them until they are completely dry, being careful not to burn them. Discard the eyes, blend using a grinder, set aside the resulting powder.

4) In the oven, roast the peanuts then pulverize in a grinder, and set aside.

5) In a large skillet or shallow pan, heat olive oil and add the onion. Let wither. Add the tomato and bell pepper and sauté for a minute. Add the water and cook for 5 minutes or until the spices are tender. Place the fish and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the fish with the help of a large spoon and cook for another 5 minutes. When the fish flesh is coming off in small flakes, it is ready.

6) Remove the fish broth and leave it in large flakes, discarding fish skin and bones. Reserve the head that can be served separately. Reserve the fish flesh in flakes.

7) Mix the broth of fish (taking care to check to see that no fishbones are left) in a blender. Pour the broth in a large saucepan on the stove, and also put the fish chunks in. Begin heating up start stirring.

8) Blend the moistened bread in a blender until it turn into a dough. Pour this batter into the pan in the fish broth and continue to stir.

9) Drain well the shrimp and set aside half of them (the largest). Blend the rest in a grinder, adding just enough water for the blender’s blades to catch. Pour this shrimp powder to the pan and continue stirring. Add the powdered processed ingredients: the head of the shrimp, nuts and peanuts (incidentally, this spice can be done in advance if you want to advance the dish) and continue stirring.

10) Put the reserved whole shrimp the pan, stirring constantly. If the mixture is becoming too thick, add hot water gradually. Continue cooking and stirring until the dough has become thick to desired thickness. Join then the coconut milk and ginger and mix well.

11) Pour in the palm oil and continue stirring. When the surface begin to wrinkle and the sauce begins to come off the bottom of the pan, it is ready. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with rice.

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