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Authentic ingredients for Brazilian stew

Fine Cooking Issue 91
Photos: Scott Phillips
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The Brazilian Chicken & Shrimp Stew is my version of xim-xim, a dish from the Bahia region of Brazil. Though you can use easy-to-find and perfectly acceptable substitutions, a couple of ingredients characteristic of the food from this region—dendê oil and malagueta peppers—will give the stew a more authentic flavor. Neither of these ingredients is widely available in the United States, but they can be found in markets in areas with a large Brazilian population. They’re also available by mail order from Latinmerchant.com.

Dendê oil

Made from the kernel of the dendezeiro palm fruit, dendê oil is used both for cooking and for drizzling over finished food. It’s a thick oil with a rich, nutty flavor and a gorgeous red-orange color that gives food an orange glow. Pure dendê oil is difficult to find—most is blended with soy oil, and that’s fine for this stew. Store dendê oil in a dark space at cool room temperature and before using it, always smell to make sure it’s not rancid. Due to its high saturated fat content, it’s normal for it to be semi-solid at room temperature. 

Malagueta peppers

One of the most widely used chiles in Brazil, malagueta peppers are indispensable in preparing Bahian dishes. They’re also set on the table along with salt and black pepper as a condiment. The small red chiles are fiercely hot—in the range of 60,000 to 100,000 Scoville units.  That’s about the same as Thai bird chiles, which may be substituted. Next to impossible to find fresh in the U.S., they’re usually sold pickled in vinegar in small glass bottles. 

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