Pirão is a traditional dish from the north-east of Brazil made by beating coarse cassava root flour into hot stock. It’s typically eaten alongside a fish stew called moqueca, but I believe it deserves main-dish status in its own right. You can get coarse cassava flour online, and in Brazilian and West African shops (where it’s called gari); failing that, use the same amount of quick-cook polenta.
1 hr 25 mins
12 raw head‑on, shell-on tiger prawns
¼ tsp sweet paprika
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
105ml olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 tomatoes, finely chopped (300g net weight)
1 scotch bonnet chilli, left whole but with a lengthways slit cut into it
3 tbsp tomato paste
5g coriander leaves, finely chopped, plus 2 tbsp whole leaves, to serve
4 sea bream fillets (about 120g each), skinned and cut in half
250ml shellfish or fish stock
1 green chilli, finely sliced (and deseeded if you prefer less heat)
2 tsp white-wine vinegar
150g coarse cassava flour or quick-cook polenta
1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve
1. For the marinated prawns, twist off the prawn heads and put them in a bowl. Leaving the tails intact, peel and discard the prawn shells, then de-vein the prawns and use a small, sharp knife to open them up so they are semi-butterflied. Put the prawns in a medium bowl with the paprika, half the garlic, two tablespoons of oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Mix together and leave to marinate for 20 or minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan on a medium flame, then fry the prawn heads, stirring, for about five minutes, until crisp and bright pink. Use a potato masher (or metal whisk) to crush the heads and release their liquids and flavour into the oil. Strain through a fine sieve, reserving the oil, and discard the heads.
3. Return the oil to the pan and put on a medium-high heat. Add another tablespoon of oil and the remaining garlic, and fry for a minute, stirring, until lightly coloured. Add the onion, fry for three minutes, then add the tomatoes, scotch bonnet, tomato paste, coriander, fish and a teaspoon and a quarter of salt, and fry for five minutes, stirring every now and then. Pour in the stock and 850ml water, turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, combine the green chilli and vinegar in a small bowl with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
5. Lift out 120g of the fish from the stock and set aside. With the pan still on a medium heat, sprinkle the surface with a third of the cassava flour or polenta, whisking constantly as you go to avoid any lumps. Don’t worry about the fish breaking apart – that’s the intention. Slowly pour in the remaining cassava flour or polenta in two more batches, whisking constantly. Once it’s all fully incorporated into the stock, turn down the heat to low and whisk for eight minutes more, until the mix is thickened and bubbling, then turn off the heat.
6. Put a large, nonstick frying pan on a high heat and, once very hot, lay in the prawns, spaced apart, and sear for 90 seconds on each side, until golden. Scrape the prawn marinade into the pan with the reserved fish, and warm up.
7. Transfer the pirão to a large, shallow bowl and top with the prawns and fish. Toss the remaining coriander with the marinated green chillies, and spoon over the top. Squeeze the lime and drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of oil over, and serve.