What does the Baiana have?

Moqueca Risotto with Pan Seared Prawns

O que é que a Baiana tem? What does the Baiana have? The answer to that age old question can be summarized into two words, Palm Oil. Though I am pretty certain Dorival Caymmi was not thinking of palm oil when composing that iconic song for Carmen Miranda, but still. Palm oil is one of my favorite ingredients to use. So much so that when determining what signature dish to make for Gordon Ramsey on my MasterChef appearance, the one and only requirement I had for the dish was that it must include palm oil.

Like I've told you all before, Brazilian cuisine is ridiculously diverse. Bahia - more specifically Salvador, BA - has an amazing and unique cuisine, which is heavily African influenced. Bahia was the main portal in which the African slaves were brought to be processed and then sent to other parts of the country. And so, the African slaves brought their delicious cuisine and techniques, which evolved into the Afro-Bahian cuisine that we have today.

Palm Oil

The most prevalent ingredient in this cuisine, of course, is palm oil. Palm oil is an oil extracted from the fruit of a plam tree. It is used in almost all of Bahian signature dishes including, Moquecas, Acaraje, Bobo, Caruru, and Vatapa, just to name a few. Palm Oil has a deep orange color, which sometimes turns into a more vibrant, golden yellow when cooked in some of the typical Bahian dishes. Palm oil not only adds a very distinct color to a dish, but brings a unique flavor as well. It has an earthy tone as well an underlying sweetness to it. If I had to compare it to something, I would probably say it most resembles saffron, in both color and flavor -although there are definitely some distinct differences. I made this connection a few years back, when my mom was making paella and it smelled and tasted like she had used palm oil.

It really irks me when I see recipes say "1 tbsp palm oil (or vegetable oil can be substituted)”. I am sorry to break it to you folks but, palm oil can absolutely NOT be substituted by any other oil. You will lose everything that makes the dish what it is, in turn creating a whole new dish. The beauty of a Moqueca, Bobo, etc., is the color and flavor that the palm oil brings to it! So go that extra mile in search for palm oil, which actually shouldn't be that hard to find. For you Seattleites, the El Mercado Latino in Pike Place Market always has it in stock. For those of you non-Seattleites, you can search Latino or African stores in your town. Wherever it is you find it, you will not regret it!

Inspired by the flavors of my homeland, I made myself a delicious moqueca risotto topped with pan seared prawns. It had all the flavors you would expect to find in a Moqueca Baiana - seafood flavors, palm oil, creamy coconut milk, and a hint of lime! I sauteed my veggies and arborio rice with the palm oil, as well as a little olive oil. I used a homemade clam and shrimp stock, as a base to my risotto. And finished it off with some rich coconut milk and a tiny bit more of palm oil!


baking.serendipity said...

This is a really interesting post...thanks for all the info!

May Ling Wu said...

huh never knew about palm oil!

Fernando said...

I love Bahiana Food, I am from Rio living in London but my heart is Bahiano :)

Magic of Spice said...

Great info about substituting for palm oil...makes sense :)