202 - Seductive Seafood
By Mary Luz Mejia
As a child growing up in Belo Horizonte (or beautiful horizon in Portuguese), Chef Mario Cassini used to run to the kitchen to watch his aunt and grandfather prepare mouth-watering dishes in the family home. Today, Mario is the owner of Cajú, a Brazilian-influenced restaurant that celebrates the exotic and intoxicating dishes of his heritage.
The cultural and culinary imprints left behind by Portuguese colonials, African slaves, the country’s indigenous peoples and the many others who arrived later, are what makes Brazilian food so unique. Take for example one of Cajú’s most popular dishes, Moqueca de Peixe. This seductive seafood dish comes to us from the northern state of Bahia – a tropical stew adapted from Portuguese colonial recipes intermingled with ingredients brought over from African slaves. Hence this dish is quintessential Afro-Bahian – a multi-layered exploration of flavour.
Chef Mario uses white fish, such as snapper fillets and marinates them in a lime juice, cilantro and olive oil mix that helps bring out the briny freshness of the sea. His heavenly stew sauce is comprised of coconut milk, spicy malaguetta peppers (if you like it hot, just ask for more because Chef Mario only uses enough to give it a hint of heat), ginger, peppers, tomato, garlic and onion. Shrimp can also be added for an extra hit of seafood.
Traditionally, if you try this dish in at a seaside stall in Bahia, you’ll notice it has a rose-coloured hue thanks largely to the addition of African dende oil or palm nut oil. In keeping with his health-concious clientele, Chef Mario replaces the rich dende oil with heart-friendly olive oil. The result, while not identical to the Bahian version, is a satisfying, silky broth full of flavourful fish and shrimp that evokes a Thai curry with a South American twist. Served with a side of basmati rice and steamed greens, the only thing you’ll be hankering for is a cold, crisp Caipirinha lime cocktail to wash it all back. And a tropical breeze wouldn’t hurt either!
922 Queen Street West