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Balchão - Reinventing Food

Reinventing Food is series of blogposts where as a chef, I will share a few of the food discoveries and recipes I am collecting throughout my world tour. Each traditional dish will be the playground for creative cooking and ideation.

South of India was like trespassing into a whole new world of cuisine and flavours. Our first food destination was Goa and I was super excited to explore how the fusion between the Portuguese influence and Indian cuisine looks like. My first encounter was with the famous Balchão dish. Balchão is a sour chilli paste used as base in many of Goan sweet and sour tandooris. Its name sounds just like a Portuguese dish, but few are the Portuguese that know this exotic colonial recipe that goes nicely with prawn, pork, or fish. Personally, I feel the need to know it. So here we go.

Balchão Paste (Easy Cooking Level)


8-10 Kashmiri dry red chillies (or 4-5 dried red pepper)

4-5 Byadagi red dry chillies (or any dry red spicy chilies)

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp black peppercorns

6 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

Vinegar as required

1/2 inch ginger piece (roughly chopped)

2 tsp palm jaggery (or granulated white sugar)

1 tbsp tamarind (1 small tamarind ball)

Cooking tools:



How to make it:

  1. Pour the vinegar into a blender jar first, and then add all the remaining ingredients. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, until it forms a highly pungent, reddish-brown paste.

  2. Store the mixture in a tightly sealed nonreactive container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

  3. If your blender isn’t able to give a nice smooth puree, use the strainer to take all the small uneven bits remaining.

Chef tip:

For a healthier and nicer Balchão, ferment your red pepper before making your purée. Instead of using vinegar to provide acidity and some form of liquid to make the purée, fermented red peppers will do a great job. To ferment the peppers submerge them unseeded into mineral water + 2% of the total weight with good sea salt. Make sure the peppers are all time under the salted water to avoid contact with oxygen and therefore bad pathogens. Put this closed container somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight. Every 1-2 days, open the lid of your container just to release the extra pressure produced by gases from the fermentation process. After 5-7 days your fermented peppers should be ready. The number of days you leave your fermentation process going on will mostly depend on how sour and funky you want your peppers to taste and on your room temperature. At 20ºC the process will be slow but above 30-32ºC, it will speed up.

Tiger Prawn Head Balchão (Hard Cooking level)

This recipe is for 4 people as an amuse bouche


Tiger Prawn Head Stuffing

  • 1 tablespoon of Balchão paste

  • 50 gr. of Sourdough Bread

  • 4 Tiger Prawn Heads

  • Tiger Prawn Shells

  • 1/2 Shallot

  • 40 gr. Coconut milk

  • Butter as required

  • Water as required

  • Salt as required


  • 4 Kale Leafs or other Hard Green Leaf

  • 1 Green Onion Head

  • Olive Oil as required

  • 1 pinch of Sea Salt

  • 1/2 Lemon

Prawn & Parsnip Cracker

  • Left over Tiger Prawn Shells

  • 1 small Parsnip root

  • 50 gr. of Tapioca Flour

  • 1 teaspoon of Paprika

  • 1 teaspoon of Garlic and Ginger powder

  • 1 teaspoon of Sesame Seeds

  • Salt as required

  • Water as required

  • Frying Veg. Oil

Cooking tools:

  • Big Bowl

  • Blender

  • Oven or dehydrator

  • Microplane

  • Silicon Mat

  • Scraper

  • Blow Torch

  • Frying pan

  • Pipping bag

How to make it:

Tiger Prawn Head Stuffing

  1. In a small pot on medium heat, add the butter and extract all the juice from the shells of the prawns. If needed add a little bit of water (white wine is optional). Strain the shells out of the juice and keep them for the cracker.

  2. With your juice still hot, scrape and add all the meat and juices of the prawn's head to it. Do this without damaging the prawn’s heads as you need them later for platting. Keep the empty heads in the fridge and the prawn juice on the side.

  3. Break the sourdough bread into small pieces and cut the shallot finely.

  4. In a small pot on medium heat, sweat the shallots. Then add the bread and cook it for a couple of minutes. Keep cooking the bread by adding and mixing one ingredient at the time: first the prawn's juice, then the Balchão paste and finally the coconut milk. You want to cook the bread until it is soft like a thick sauce. Don’t forget to season it with salt. If necessary add small amounts of water to ease the process of cooking the bread. For some colouring, you can use a pinch of paprika (Tip: Make sure your final product isn´t too dry or too liquid. It will be served cold so better to make more liquid as it will thicken after cooling down).

  5. Let the prawns head Balchão paste cool down to room temperature before putting it in a pipping bag and keeping it in the fridge.

Prawn Cracker

  1. Dehydrate your leftover prawn shells in the oven at 100º C. Once hard and dry, blend them into a powder.

  2. Peal the parsnip and grate it with a microplane. Then, in a frying pan on medium heat, add some butter and caramelise your parsnip.

  3. Mix your garlic and ginger powder, paprika, prawn powder and tapioca flour together in a big bowl. Then add the caramelised parsnip. When all is well mixed, slowly pour some water to get a liquid dough that can be spread.

  4. Spread a thin layer of your tapioca liquid dough on the silicon mate (on top of an oven tray) with the help of your scraper. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

  5. Bake the tapioca sheet for 10 minutes at 100º C. After 10 minutes, check if you get a malleable tapioca sheet. It should be dehydrated on both sides but still humid inside. If it doesn't come out as one malleable sheet, keep baking it for a few extra minutes.

  6. Once you get a malleable sheet, shape your crackers as it pleases you. They will then need another round of dehydration at 50º C for around 3 hours.

  7. Now, they are ready to be fried and puffed. Keep them in a sealed container. Only to be fried before serving.


  1. Prep your Kale leaves by cutting the stems out. Keep it in the fridge.

  2. Finely slice the green onion. Keep it in the fridge.


Greens - Season the kale leaves with some olive oil and use a blow torch to get them slightly burnt. Roll the leaves and cut in chiffonade. Finish by adding the green onions and seasoning with lemon and salt.

Cracker - Fry in veg. oil your tapioca crackers at 160º C. Soak the extra oil letting the cracker rest on some kitchen paper and by sprinkling some salt

Prawn Heads - Grill both sides of the prawn's heads before pipping the cool Balchão stuffing inside.

Platting - One cracker goes first to the plate. On top of it should go the greens. Then, nicely place the stuffed prawn head on the side of the cracker. The guest should eat the cracker by pouring the prawn stuffing on top of the cracker before having his first bite.

Can you make this?!

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