Prawn balchao

Prawn balchao

Camarao balchao

4 with other dishes
Steven Joyce

Balchao is often described as being halfway between a pickle and a curry, and for me, it perfectly illustrates the way that Portuguese and Goan flavours melded during the Colonial era, creating something completely new. Portuguese settlers taught Goan cooks to make their beloved vinegar, and semi-preserved dishes like this were the result – hot, spicy and sharp. A pan of this has never lasted long enough in my house for me to know if it works cold, as a pickle, so I treat it just like a tangy curry.


Quantity Ingredient

Masala paste

Quantity Ingredient
11/2 teaspoons hot dried chilli flakes
6cm ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
15 black peppercorns
5 cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar


Quantity Ingredient
400g peeled, raw, sustainable whole prawns, de-veined
pinch salt
flavourless oil, for cooking
1 onion, finely chopped
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh green chillies, seeds removed
4 dried curry leaves, shredded
2 teaspoons sugar
steamed rice, to serve


  1. Sprinkle the prawns with the salt and set aside while you make the masala.
  2. Grind all the masala ingredients in a mortar and pestle to make a smooth, very fragrant paste.
  3. Place a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add a splash of oil and then the onion, and sauté until just browned. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5–10 minutes, until pulpy and soft. Next, add the green chillies and another 2 tablespoons of oil, and sauté for a minute or so. Finally, add the masala paste, turn the heat to very low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent it from burning.
  4. Meanwhile, chop the salted raw prawns into small pieces, then add them to the pan with 5 tablespoons of hot water, the shredded curry leaves and the sugar. Simmer for a further 5 minutes or until the prawns are pink and cooked through. Serve with steamed rice and a few other curry dishes such as the chicken xacuti on page 146.
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