Caldo de Peixe is one of the most traditional Cape Verdean dishes. It’s a rich and flavorful fish stew made from fresh saltwater fish, bananas, and root vegetables in a savory broth. Similar versions of Caldo de Peixe are eaten throughout and along the coasts of Africa and in other Portuguese-speaking cultures.
Caldo de peixe is a dish that I inherited my father’s love for. Although he claims that he doesn’t have a favorite Cape Verdean dish, I know that Caldo de Peixe is the one.
Funny thing is, you can always tell a caldo-de-peixe lover by watching them eat. Those who have mastered the art of eating caldo d’peixe don’t fuss around with picking out the bones. They spoon the fish into their mouths and use the same spoon to return the bones to their napkins. I know it doesn’t sound appetizing to watch, but there really is an art to it.
Meanwhile, I’m here picking the bones out like an amateur. Although I never mastered the art of spitting my bones back into my spoon like a pro, I make a really delicious caldo de peixe. I developed this recipe to mimic my grandmother’s, with only a few minor changes to jazz up the presentation. I’m fancy like that.
What is Caldo de peixe?
Caldo de peixe is a traditional Cape Verdean stew that’s made using fresh saltwater fish, potatoes, white sweet potatoes, green bananas, yuca, African yam, squash, fresh herbs and aromatics. Tomato, paprika, annatto and a touch of hot sauce are seasonings that I like to use for color and flavor.
As I mentioned Caldo de Peixe is eaten widely across cultures. Each has its own variation, made from fish and vegetables that are available locally. Angola and Moçambique have their own versions that are very similar to Cape Verdean-style caldo de peixe.
What kind of fish is used to make Caldo de Peixe?
Any fresh saltwater fish can be used to make caldo de peixe. I like to use red snapper, but you can use other varieties like bluefish and grouper. For traditional caldo de peixe, it’s important to buy fresh, whole fish. We are going to use every part of the fish, including the heads and tails!
I personally have never been a fan of cleaning and gutting fish, so it’s perfectly fine to buy fish that’s already been cleaned. Most fish markets today do the work of gutting and cleaning for you.
Can I make a boneless version of caldo de peixe?
Traditionally, we use every part of the fish in caldo de peixe. Using the entire fish (including heads and tails) yields the best results, and the most flavor. If you’re willing to make adjustments to the seasonings and cook-time, you can certainly use fish filets to make caldo de peixe.
If you opt to use fileted fish, you should cut down the cook-time of the fish to about 10 or 15 minutes. Otherwise, it will fall apart while it’s cooking. You may also need to add additional seasoning since you’re not getting the flavor from the fish’s head. Fish stock cubes can be used in place of bouillon to inject extra flavor.
Is caldo de peixe healthy?
Caldo de peixe is actually one of the healthier Cape Verdean dishes. The fish is an excellent source of protein, and the root vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants. Additionally, you can adjust the seasoning to control the levels of salt/sodium in the dish.
Know your root vegetables:
Naming and identifying all of the different root vegetables can be overwhelming. Here’s a list of all of the root vegetables in caldo de peixe, their Crioulo and English names, and what to use if you can’t find them:
- Batata – any white-fleshed potato. You don’t need anything exotic, peeled Yukon golds or russet potatoes will work just fine.
- Mandioca – commonly referred to and sold as yuca. This one should be pretty easy to find depending on where you live. Many major-grocery stores sell yuca in the produce section.
- Abobra – acorn squash is typically what I use. It has a sweet nutty flavor and depending how long you cook it, helps thicken stews.
- Inhame – sold in the US as African yams, this one can be tricky to find. If you can’t find this one, don’t sweat it. It’s pretty mild in taste, and won’t compromise the dish if it’s missing.
- Batata doce – these are sweet potatoes with white flesh. This is my favorite ingredient and I will not make this dish without it. These are sometimes just labeled ‘sweet potatoes’ (tan skin) or japanese sweet potatoes (purple skin). I just love the texture and sweet taste of these sweet potatoes so ask someone at the market for help if you need it.
- Banana verde – regular green (un-ripe) bananas. Some people use regular green bananas, others prefer plantains. Use whichever you like, as long as it’s green.
Full list of ingredients for Caldo de Peixe:
- Salt-water fish: You want every person that you are serving to get at least 1 generous sized piece of fish. For this size recipe you’ll need about 3 pounds. Snapper, bluefish and grouper are all great choices.
- Vegetables/roots: tomato, yuca, potato, white sweet potato, African yam, acorn squash, green bananas
- Aromatics: 1 whole onion and 1-2 heads garlic
- Herbs and seasonings: cilantro, bay leaves, paprika, annatto, bouillon or fish stock cubes, garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt, black pepper
- Hot sauce – Gonçalves-brand or any Louisiana-style hot sauce
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 quarts water
- White vinegar and lemon juice for soaking/rinsing the fish.
Tips for making Caldo de Peixe:
- Understand that you may have a hard time finding all of the vegetables, especially if you don’t live on the East Coast. I already talked about what vegetables can be left out/substituted if you can’t find them. If you can’t find fresh fish in your area, frozen or previously-frozen fish is fine.
- As a rule of thumb, each serving should have one generously-sized piece of fish and a piece of each root vegetable. I included approximate weights for each of the vegetables in the recipe. I always end up leaving a few cut-vegetables out to maintain a good ratio of starch to fish.
- Don’t cut the root vegetables too small – aim for 1×2-inch pieces.
- Use the biggest pot you can find. Seriously, 16 quarts is what you need for this recipe. You’re not going to fill the whole thing, but it’s always good to have room in your pot!
- Pay attention to the order of steps in the recipe. The order that the vegetables and fish are added matter because they all have varying cook-times. I ordered the steps so that the fish and starches don’t break down from over-cooking. On lazy days, I’ll add all of the vegetables at once, but for this recipe I like all of the vegetables to remain in-tact.
- Let the caldo de peixe rest! This might be hard to do if you’re hungry, but this last step is worth it because it brings all the flavors together and allows the broth to settle. I do this anytime I make soups or stews.
How to make Caldo de Peixe:
Steps 1 and 2: Prepare and season the fish
Cut each fish horizontally, into 3 or 4 pieces, including the heads and tails. Although your fish should already be clean, you’ll want to soak the pieces of fish in a large bowl of water with lemon juice and white vinegar, for 10 minutes.
Drain and rinse the fish, and return it to the bowl. Add the crushed garlic and sliced onions to the bowl with the other fish-seasonings. Gently toss the fish, or better yet, use a pastry brush to spread the seasonings on all sides of the fish. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the seasoned fish rest in the refrigerator or for a few hours or overnight.
Step 3: Prepare the yuca, banana and reserve the seasonings
Prepare the yuca and green banana by peeling and cutting them into pieces. Set them aside and take the fish out of the refrigerator. Do your best to brush off the onions, garlic and excess seasonings. Make sure to reserve them for the next step. Transfer the pieces of fish to a separate bowl or platter.
Step 4: Prepare the base for Caldo de Peixe
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 16-quart stockpot over high heat. Add the seasonings, onions and garlic that was reserved in step 3, with a splash of water to the pot. Cook the onions and garlic for about 1 minute and then add the tomato, bouillon or fish-stock cubes, salt and pepper to the pot. Let cook another 2-3 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break down the tomato and bouillon cubes.
Step 5: Add water to the pot with the yuca and bananas
You’ll need about 5 quarts of water to make enough broth. Go ahead and add the water to the pot now and bring it to a boil over a high flame. Once the water starts boiling, add the yuca, green bananas and bay leaves. Turn the flame down to medium/low, then cover and let the pot simmer for 15 minutes.
Step 6: Add the remaining vegetables
While the broth, yuca and bananas simmer, peel and cut the potatoes, squash and yam into pieces. Once the first 15 minutes from the previous step is up, add the remaining vegetables to the pot and let simmer for another 20 minutes.
Step 7: Taste and stir in the cilantro leaves
Taste the caldo de peixe, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Once you’re happy with the taste, cut the flame from under the pot and stir in the fresh cilantro leaves.
Step 8: Let the Caldo de Peixe rest!
I can’t stress how important this last step is. Once you’ve added the fresh cilantro, let the pot sit covered for at least 15 minutes. I like to let my stews rest for about 30. This last step brings out the richness and texture of the broth. Don’t worry, it’ll still be hot! Just relax and let those flavors come together.
How to serve Caldo de Peixe:
No starch-heavy Cape Verdean meal is complete without more starch. Not joking, that’s just how we do. Caldo de peixe is typically served with cherem (a side dish made from hominy), or white rice on the side. You can also serve caldo de peixe on its own, if you want to keep the meal light.
How to store and re-heat leftover caldo de peixe:
Do not underestimate the deliciousness of leftover caldo de peixe! It actually tastes better the next day because the flavors will have developed fully. Store leftover caldo de peixe in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Just be gentle when transferring the delicate pieces of fish and vegetables to a container. You can re-heat any leftovers on the stove-top or in a microwave.
You’ll notice that the broth may appear like jelly after it’s refrigerated, and some of the fish and vegetables may break apart and settle at the bottom of the container. This is ok and expected. The jelly-ness will go away as the caldo warms up, and you’ll be left with a rich-bodied broth. Just be careful of the bones!
Check out my other Cape Verdean recipes:
Caldo de Peixe
Fish and seasonings
- 2 pounds saltwater fish cleaned
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 medium sized onion sliced very thinly
- 16 cloves garlic crushed or finely minced
- 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground annatto
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 1 large tomato cut into wedges
- 3 bouillon cubes large
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 5 quarts water
- 2 green bananas
- 1 pounds yuca
- 1 pound potatoes yukon-gold or russet
- 1 pounds white-fleshed sweet potatoes sometimes sold as Japanese sweet potatoes
- 1 pounds acorn squash
- bunch of fresh cilantro chopped
- Cut the fish into chunks (about 2-3 inches wide). Make sure not to discard of the head or tail! After the fish has been cut, soak it in a bowl of cold water, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice for 10 minutes and then rinse the fish off.
- Place the fish back in the bowl and season it with crushed garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, annatto, lemon juice, chopped cilantro, garlic powder, onion powder and olive oil. Use a rubber spatula to gently toss the fish in the seasonings or better yet, brush the seasonings on using a pastry brush on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the fish rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2-3 hours, or overnight.
- Peel and cut the yuca and green banana into pieces, then and set them aside. Remove the fish from the refrigerator and transfer each piece of fish to a separate platter or bowl. Try to brush the garlic, onions and any excess seasoning into the bowl that you seasoned the fish in. Reserve for the next step.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 16-quart pot and add the reserved onions, garlic, and seasonings from the fish to the pot. You can use a splash of water to loosen the seasonings from the bowl. Cook the onions and garlic for about 1 minute then add the tomato, hot sauce, bouillon cubes, salt and pepper. Let cook for another 2-3 minutes, use wooden spoon to break up the tomato and bouillon cubes.
- Add about 5 quarts of cold water, and bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once the water starts to boil, reduce heat to medium/low. Then add the banana, yuca and bay leaves. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes
- While the caldo de peixe simmers, peel and cut the potatoes, squash and and yam into pieces. Once the time is up from the previous step, add the remaining vegetables and let the pot continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Taste the caldo de peixe, and add more seasoning if needed. Once you're satisfied with the taste, turn the heat off from under the pot and stir in the fresh cilantro leaves.
- Let the caldo de peixe rest covered for about 15-30 minutes before serving. The longer the caldo de peixe rests, the more rich and flavorful the broth will be!
- Be careful when handling the inhame (yam)! It has slimy flesh, which can make you itch. Wash your hands right after handling it and don't touch your neck or face until you've washed it off your hands.
- Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.