I wasn’t always a fan of chilli food until my brother and his wife moved in with me. My brother’s idea of a home-cooked meal was buying hot chicken wings from the local take-out joint. I’d come home tired as hell from work and the only option would be the wings. I begrudgingly began to enjoy them.
It was only while studying for my qualifications in cooking that my appreciation for heat and chilli grew. It’s not about intensity; it’s about complexity. Some people enjoy chilli just for that burn, and that’s fine, but it’s actually possible to balance the heat with some other complex flavours and make it work. Think Indian food, for example. Due to the lack of meat in the majority of typical Indian and Thai food, the art lies in the balancing of flavours and spices.
This recipe relies on that balance. I call it ‘Mozambique style’ because of how our Mozambican neighbours love seafood and catch it fresh out of the water and prepare it on an open flame. They are also artists when it comes to chilli and cooking with hot ingredients. Many people say this is because it is a former colony of the Portuguese, but chilli actually grows naturally in southern Africa and has been an ingredient in our cooking for centuries.
Prawns and shellfish are lovely on an open flame due to the flavours their shells give off when grilled. You don’t quite get the same flavours when grilling them in the kitchen. Trust me, I’ve tried. The soft, white flesh also absorbs the smokiness of the flames so well. Use wood for your fire, and if you can’t then second best is to grab a bag of wood chips from the braai section of the hardware store. I like apple wood and oak but any commercially sold wood will do. It will add flavour.
Grill the prawns when the flame is at medium. Too hot a fire and the prawns will burn, too low a heat and they’ll stay a nasty light pink colour. I skewer them to keep them elongated instead of curling over and cramping and drying out on the fire.
Place all the ingredients apart from the prawns in a bowl, and mix well.
Defrost the prawns overnight in the fridge or in cold water. If the prawns are not deveined and pre-cleaned then please do so. (Deveining a prawn is really important. It involves cutting a thin line along the back of a prawn from just behind its head to the tail. Pull that black vein out. Stick your pinkie finger inside the head under running water to remove the innards of the prawn.) Rinse thoroughly. (You want the shell and head to remain intact though!) Stick a bamboo skewer through the prawns, lengthways from the tail to the head. You want it to keep the prawn straight; you don’t really need it to be sticking out on both sides. Pour the marinade mixture over your prawns, and let them marinate for 2–3 hours at room temperature covered in an airtight container.
When your fire is at a medium heat test it with one prawn. If it burns, wait a bit longer. Don’t turn the prawns too much. As soon as the shells of the prawns turn a bright pink colour, they are done. Remove them from the fire immediately. Prawns are easily overcooked. Serve.
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