Saturday, February 11, 2017

Piri Piri Shrimp with Almond Mint Couscous

     The Complex Flavors Of Mozambique Cuisine!
     The name Piri Piri is derived from the Swahili words Pili Pili, which translates to "Pepper Pepper."  During the age of the Colombian Exchange, a variety of Central American and South American chile peppers were introduced to West Africa.  A small Red Bird's Eye Pepper soon became the most popular and these little peppers were called Piri Piri by the locals.  Piri Piri are small bright red Bird Peppers are shaped like small Thai Peppers.
     Piri Piri are almost as spicy hot as a Habanero.  The high level of spicy heat could be the reason why the local people used their word for pepper twice, because in the old world, hot chile peppers were originally marketed as a stronger, cheaper alternative for black peppercorns.  Piri Piri definitely were at least twice the strength of black pepper spice, so the name is apropos.  One Piri Piri is strong enough to flavor a pot of stew.  Adding a few Piri Piri to a stew will definitely set a tongue on fire!
     Dried or pickled Piri Piri can be found at international food markets, African food stores and at internet shopping websites.  In West Africa, Piri Piri can be found nearly everywhere, because they are farmed and birds have spread the seeds into the wild.  Good substitutes are Chile Pequin, Chile Tepin or ripe red small Thai Peppers.  All of these tiny peppers are bird peppers that taste like Piri Piri.
     Mozambique spice mixes are complex and they are similar to Moroccan spice mixes.  Mozambique spice mixes that contain hot chile pepper are also similar to Ethiopian spice mixes, in the way that they are used.  Just like in Ethiopian cooking, Mozambique sauces are often made with just clarified butter (ghee) and spices.  When hot spicy bird peppers are added to a West African recipe, the words Piri Piri will usually appear in the recipe title, so guests will know that the flavor will be spicy hot.  Mozambique Piri Piri Shrimp is a good example of how the words "pepper pepper" are applied  
     Piri Piri Shrimp is also a popular entrée in Portugal.  The Portugese Piri Piri version is much milder tasting than the Mozambique version and the spice mixture is less complex.  Olive oil usually replaces the Ghee in Portuguese Piri Piri recipes.
     I originally learned today's Mozambique Piri Piri Shrimp from a self made chef that spent a few years in West Africa.  The chef bastardized the Mozambique recipe to suit his own personal taste.  The chef also had Tourette Syndrome which was usually triggered by his own hot temper.  Whenever something went wrong in the kitchen, like when one of his cornstarch thickened sauces broke during the busy hours, the chef went into a violent tirade of screaming endless vulgarities, which was enough to curl the toenails any guest or employee in the restaurant.  Needless to say, the Tourette chef exploded when somebody told him that he was not making Piri Piri Shrimp the right way and this inspired me to research the recipe.
     Researching Piri Piri recipes or Mozambique cuisine was nearly impossible to do at mainstream public libraries in the old days.  After the internet went full swing in the 1990's, finding information about diverse recipes and cultural cuisines was much easier to do.  It was then that I saw how complex the flavors of Mozambique cuisine can be, especially when Piri Piri are feature in an entrée.  Mozambique cuisine was also taught in a Cultural Cuisine Classroom at Le Cordon Bleu when I attended college there a few years ago.  The formal Mozambique and Moroccan education at college provided useful insight.  All I can say is that it is easy read a recipe, but to truly understand a recipe, research has to be done.  This is especially true for the cuisines of West Africa.

     Almond Mint Couscous:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.  (About 1 cup.)
     The original Couscous was made with Millet Grain.  Small Semolina Pasta Couscous mimics the size and texture of Millet Grain.  Small Couscous can be found in most grocery stores.
     The proportion of water to couscous affects the texture.  For a dry texture, use equal amounts of water and couscous.  For a soft texture that will hold its own shape, use about twice as much water.
     *Small couscous only takes about 5 minutes to cook, so have the ingredients ready ahead of time.
     Step 1:  Boil 1 cup of water in a sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of small couscous.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of almond slivers.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add 1 pinch of cumin
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. (1 or 2 pinches)
     Return the liquid to a boil.
     Step 2:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 pinch of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Add 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh mint.
     Step 3:  Cover the pot with a lid.
     Simmer and steam till the couscous is tender and the water is absorbed.
     Keep the couscous warm on a stove top or in a 135ºF bain marie.
     Piri Piri Shrimp:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée portion.
     Piri Piri Shrimp is supposed to be spicy, but you can adjust the amount of hot Piri Piri Chile Pepper to suit personal taste.
     The Piri Piri Marinade is cooked and served as the sauce!
     Step 1:  Place these ingredients in a mixing bowl:
     - 1/3 cup of clarified butter (Ghee)
     - 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic
     - 2 tablespoons of lime juice
     - 1/2 teaspoon of chopped mint leaves
     - 1/2 teaspoon of chopped Italian Parsley
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika
     Add 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of minced Piri Piri Chile Peppers.  (To taste.)
     *If Piri Piri are not available, then substitute ripe red Thai Chile Pepper or about 1/4 teaspoon of ground Chile Pequin.  
     Step 3:  Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of mace.
     Add 1 pinch of cardamom.
     Add 1 pinch of cumin.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add 2 pinches of coriander.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Step 4:  Add 7 or 8 peeled and deveined large shrimp.  (Leave the tails on.)
     Toss the shrimp in the marinade.
     Marinate for 10 minutes.
     Step 5:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Pour the marinade and shrimp into the hot pan.
     Sauté and stir till the shrimp are fully cooked and the garlic turns a golden brown color.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Remove the bay leaf.

     Piri Piri Shrimp with Almond Mint Couscous:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.
     Step 1:  Use a 3" to 3 1/" wide ring mold to place the Almond Mint Couscous on the center of a plate.
     Step 2:  Arrange the shrimp on the plate around the couscous.
     Pour a generous amount of the Piri Piri Sauce over the shrimp and onto the plate.
     Garnish the couscous with an Italian Parsley sprig and mint sprig.

     Piri Piri Shrimp has a unique flavor that will wake the senses!  

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