Goodbye College, Hello Fish Stew

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To try Sophie's recipe for muqueca, Brazilian fish stew, click here.

When I think of college meals, I remember endless bowls of generic Cap'n Crunch, "hangover chicken" (deep fried chicken wrapped around cheese and something that vaguely resembled spinach, served exclusively on Sunday mornings), and wilted lettuce doused in dressing, courtesy of my dining hall. My friends and I rarely got up the energy to explore nearby restaurants, and when we did, our exploration usually ended at Tommy's, a late-night pizza-by-the-slice place. Only in our senior year did we venture off campus, and only then did we come upon Muqueca, a hole in the wall with plastic furniture that served cheap, flavorful, and filling meals—the trifecta for any college student.

When my boyfriend, Dave, and I traveled to D.C. to visit some college friends, we organized a dinner party. I met the dinner's host, Anne, at the grocery store. We toyed with the idea of cooking high-end hangover chicken, but decided on muqueca, the eponymous Brazilian fish stew of our favorite off-campus restaurant. For eight dollars per person, we got all of our ingredients: cod, shrimp, veggies, fish stock, and coconut milk for the stew; rice and collard greens for sides; and plantains for dessert.

The simple addition of coconut milk to a traditional fish stew made the dish exotic and flavorful.

At Anne's house, we cooked the stew in one pot, following basic stew guidelines—sweat veggies first, add broth, simmer down, then add fish. We cut the collard greens into a chiffonade and sautéed them in a ton of garlic and oil, and served everything over jasmine rice. Simple and easy, it allowed us to cook calmly while talking to the handful of friends who filtered in and out of her kitchen. (Her kitchen is the size of my apartment. There is no filtering in my kitchen. If too many people filter, we get stuck.)

Seth, a PhD. candidate in International Relations, told us about his classes of undergraduates, and Anne discussed her work at a poverty-fighting nonprofit. I asked Stephen about his hard-hitting reporting job and thought of the previous night's West Wing tour, given by a mutual college friend. He not only wears a suit to work. He has a badge. And he and his coworkers speak in acronyms. ("She used to work for the FDA but then moved to the SSA and is now working for the AMICC." "The what?" "The Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee." "Ah.") I mused that my group of college friends was no longer collegiate.

When the six of us sat down and clinked glasses of good red wine, it was hard to remember a time when we weren't all so civilized, when Stephen and I were still making uncouth Freud "yo mama" jokes in tutorial, or when Seth was belting out ludicrous songs with his college band, "The Broviet Union." (Sample song: Palindrome. Lyrics comprised solely of palindromes strung haphazardly and idiotically together: "Warsaw, was raw ... race car ... age irony Noriega ... Olson is in Oslo ... sun anus ... take it to the bridge!" Etc.)

As we caught up, everyone cleaned their bowls. The simple addition of coconut milk to a traditional fish stew made the dish exotic and flavorful. The collard greens were crunchy and super garlicky—I thought of it as a non-carb variation on the rouille-smeared crouton usually served with bouillabaisse—and the rice was good for sopping up the juices.

Anne and I made our way back into the kitchen to tackle the plantains but realized we'd made a big mistake—they weren't nearly ripe enough. Frozen cookie dough to the rescue! We finished our evening with chocolate-chip cookies, ice cream, and a heated game of Catch Phrase. Just like old times.

Recipe: Muqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)

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Sophie Brickman is a writer living and cooking in New York City. More

Sophie Brickman is a writer living and cooking in New York City. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the French Culinary Institute.
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