Whether prepared as a pickle or a curry, the hot-and sweet balchao is sure to tantalize tastebuds...
Balchao is a tasty, popular dish prepared largely by the Catholics in Goa. This dish shows the probable influence of culinary traditions of Java in Indonesia, Burma, Malaca and Macau since the Portuguese conducted booming trade with these regions. Balchao is recognized as balichao in Macau which was an erstwhile Portuguese colony.
Many people mistake moll with balchao. The Portuguese know galmyachi poli – a shrimp preparation as balchao. So it is mandatory to use galmyachi poli (shrimp cake) or shrimp powder or balchao preserve in any balchao preparation.
Only when there are no dry shrimps available, dry prawns powder is used as a substitute. Balchao is made from pork, bimbli, bimbli-prawns, squids (mankio), tiger prawns or kingfish.
Goans prepare balchao as a pickle to be preserved for the monsoon, to be consumed when there is scarcity of fish in the market. Balchao also finds a prominent place on the plate when the food served is tasteless.
Generally, fisherwomen from Loutolim, Ambora and Benaulim sell galmy - achi poli. Fresh shrimps ( galmo ) are washed thoroughly in water to remove any dirt or sand particles. These are mixed with rock salt and then ground on a grinding stone into a fine paste. This paste is then dried in the sun just like sausages to get galmyachi poli.
In Tiswadi and Bardez people prepare balchao preserve by grinding dried shrimps with garlic, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and red chillies in palm feni.
To prepare top quality balchao, the best quality palm feni available at Siolim is recommended. A good balchao should have a taste that is similar to schezwan sauce. It should be thick, hot and sour with a slight sweet tinge. When balchao is prepared as a pickle, no water or tomatoes are used in the preparation, but if it is prepared for parties, then water or broth is used to increase the quantity.
Fish, prawns or squids when used in balchao pickle should be fried properly in oil with salt or else it could spoil. In the same oil, fry very finely chopped onions till brown, then add vinegar, balchao preserve, salt to taste and fried fish.
The masala is ground in vinegar with cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, tamarind and Aldonechi gaunti kali Kashmiri mirsang (red chillies). The amount of onions used should always be slightly more than the quantity of fish or prawns used.
In restaurants the gravy is prepared on the previous day and kept to mature overnight.
The next day, fried fish is added.
Balchao should have strong taste of ginger, garlic, onions and spices. Bimbli balchao is prepared in the same manner. Pork and bimbli are not fried but cooked in the gravy.
Balchao prepared for parties is a slight variation of the above pickle. Roast dry prawns and then powder them. Heat a lot of oil and then add ginger, garlic, finely chopped shallots, 4-5 whole cardamoms and cloves and fry till brownish in colour.
Thereafter, add finely chopped tomatoes, vinegar masala, tomato ketchup, sugar, palm feni, dry prawns powder, salt and strained vegetable stock. Add 1 tbsp of oil and shallow fried fish.
Cook till oil starts floating on top. Another variation is prepared by frying very finely chopped onion till brown. Then add blanched finely chopped tomatoes without seeds, pounded ginger, garlic, cloves and pounded cinnamon.
This is cooked on slow fire by adding balchao preserve, vinegar masala, powder of 3-4 cardamom seeds, sugar and shallow fried prawns. Cook by covering it with a lid containing water. Bimbli balchao is always prepared in a cundle (mud pot) and consumed within a week.
If prepared in a metallic (steel, aluminum, copper, brass) container it cracks on account of the acid content of bimbli. Instead of using sugar, some people add palm jaggery for better taste and colour. People have stopped making shark balchao since there is a ban on killing sharks.
Some Hindu families have begun preparing a dish with prawns, kingfish and eggs, which they have named as balchao. But it is completely different from the original balchao preparation.
Balchao is to be relished with steaming hot ukdo rice and prawn curry or with local unddo or pav. It is one of the most popular dishes during Goa's tourist season.
By Melinda Pereira Kamat
Posted By : Melinda Pereira Kamat , India on 23/11/2008