Spice paste for the balchão is ground with vinegar and the prawns fried till crisp to remove any moisture for better preservation. Onions are caramelized in oil that lends sweetness and the dark colour. The paste is stirred and cooked on low heat for 10 minutes. Addition of tomato puree and sugar helps in neutralizing the spiciness and contributes to an overall balanced taste. Finally, the crispy prawns are combined and simmered on low heat till the oil floats on the top. Cooled, stored in an airtight, sterilized glass jar and allowed to mature for a week before consumption. Utterly delicious and truly irresistible!!!
Balchão can also be prepared with dried prawns. The quantity of onions used should always be more than the seafood. Prawns can be substituted with firm-fleshed fish like kingfish, squids and pork. Recipe for pork balchão can be found here. The difference between molho and balchão; the former has seafood or pork fried and simmered in the spicy paste whereas the latter has inclusion of onions and even tomatoes.
(Yields 800 grams)
1 kg prawns
6 large onions (finely chopped)
2 pods of garlic (60 grams - finely chopped)
2" piece of ginger (finely chopped)
250 grams tomatoes (blanched and deseeded)
1 1/4 cups oil
a pinch of bouillon cube
3 tablespoons of sugar
Grind to a fine paste with 1 1/4 cups vinegar
15 red dried Kashmiri chillies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
20 whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick roll (3" long, about 4 grams)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Shell, devein prawns, wash, pat dry and season with salt. If prawns are large, then cut them into 1/2" pieces. After cleaning, you will have 3 cups of prawns. Set aside.
Pulse onions, ginger and garlic in a food processor till fine. Onions should be done first and separately. Ginger and garlic can be pulsed together.
In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and shallow fry prawns in 3 batches till brown and crisp. When prawns start to crisp up, use a splatter screen to cover the skillet as they start to sputter. For a better shelf life, the
prawns are fried till crisp. Drain on absorbent paper towels and set aside. (Note: At the most, you will need 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil to fry the prawns.)
Heat the remaining oil in a thick wide-bottomed pan and brown the onions stirring every few minutes. It takes an hour on medium low heat to brown them. Halfway through the cooking process, add two tablespoons of sugar to caramelize onions.
Once brown, add ginger and garlic, fry well for 3 to 4 minutes till soft and fragrant, do not burn.
Stir in the spice paste and on low heat, cook for 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, puree the tomatoes that have been blanched and deseeded in the same blender jar used for grinding. By doing this, you will not lose out on any spice paste. Mix in the puree and cook well for an additional 5 minutes.
Finally, combine the crisp prawns, balance 1 tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of bouillon cube and salt. Lower flame and cook for 10 minutes or until the oil floats to the surface. Cool, store in an airtight sterilized glass jar ensuring that it is covered with oil on the top.
Let the pickle mature for a week before consumption. In a humid climate, it should be refrigerated.
- Add sugar as desired.
- It took exactly 1 hour to caramelize the onions.
- Only 1 beefsteak tomato that weighed 250 grams was used.