The Brazilian coastal state of Bahia is known for its rich cultural mix including many descendants of its earlier largely Yoruba slave population. Their influence is evident in the local popularity of dende oil, palm kernel oil similar to that used extensively in West African cooking. (In fact, depending on when you live, you may only be able to find the West African version. If so, dilute with equal parts of a light, neutral oil to approximate the Brazilian product. If you can find neither substitute olive oil colored with a bit of paprika and turmeric.) This rich stew of seafood flavored with chilies, peanuts, coconut, and palm oil is typical of Afro-Brazilian cuisine. Serve it simply over rice or with Brazilian black-eyed pea fritters, acarajé.

Note: Vatapá is usually thickened with bread crumbs. To make the dish gluten-free I have substituted potatoes. Feel free to replace the potatoes with fresh, untoasted breadcrumbs.



Onion (1 large)

6 ounces

170 grams


2 or 3 cloves

2 or 3 cloves

Serrano, jalapeño, or other hot chili

1 to 4, or to taste

1 to 4, or to taste

Bell pepper (1 small)

2 ounces

60 grams

Dried shrimp*

½ cup

125 ml

Dende oil or substitute

2 tablespoons

30 ml

Fish stock or water

½ cup

125 ml

Peanut butter, natural

¼ cup (2 ounces)

60 grams

Potatoes, mashed

4 ounces

112 grams

Coconut milk

1 cup

250 ml

Fish, firm white

8 ounces

250 grams

Shrimp, peeled and deveined

8 ounces

250 grams

Salt and pepper

to taste

to taste

* If you cannot find Brazilian dried shrimp use a teaspoon (5 ml) of Thai shrimp paste or just omit.


Coarsely chop the onion, garlic, chilies, and bell pepper then puree in a food processor along with the dried shrimp, adding a bit of water if necessary.

Heat one half of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion mixture and sauté until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.

 Add the stock and peanut butter, stirring until fully incorporated. Mix in the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes to meld the flavors.

Stir in the coconut milk and remaining oil. Fold in the fish and shrimp. Simmer for another 5 or 6 minutes, or until shrimp and fish are done.


5 responses to “Vatapá

  1. terrylinden January 8, 2012 at 18:19

    Found your recipe blog purely by accident via a gluten-free friend, and I LOVE it. It seems to be gluten free, and almost everything can be adapted to a slow cooker. You are now favorited!

    Sharon Goldstein

    • Leo Cotnoir January 8, 2012 at 19:41

      Thank you for your kind words. I should caution you that my cooking is not strictly gluten-free, i.e. I sometimes use rye flour or barley. However, it is wheat-free because my wife is sensitive to wheat. Please feel free to share your slow-cooker adaptations. I don’t have one so my slow cooking is usually done in the oven.

      • terrylinden January 8, 2012 at 20:13

        One of the advantages of a slow cooker is the lack of preparation time the recipes usually need, and the lack of care and attention they need once they’re going. The recipes that work best of variations of stews and soups. Usually just putting all the ingredients into the slow cooker and checking every now and then is all that’s needed. In the case of the sauerbraten, you’d still want to marinate the beef, but then it all goes into the cooker. But even your recipes that won’t work there are still easy enough, and use common enough ingredients so that even someone like me, who isn’t a natural cook, can follow along. Many thanx!

  2. promenadeplantings February 26, 2012 at 10:59

    I’ve been looking for a recipe of a Brazillian fish stew I had many years ago, and looking at the ingredients I think I’ve found it. So thanks, I’ll boomark it for when I can next get some fresh white fish. result!

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