here to learn about pirão) was created by São Paulo chef Rufino Casal Treinta for his eponymous restaurant Rufino's. In his recipe, he uses a fish, common along the coasts of Brazil, called pescada cumbucu in Portuguese and bearing the scientific name Cynoscion virescens. The English name for this delicately flavored, white-fleshed fish is, rather unappetizingly, green weakfish. Perhaps this unappealing name was chosen by the fish itself in an effort to remove it from the commercial marketplace. There's something distinctly unsavory about the name - "Waiter, I think I'll have the green weakfish, please," just doesn't ring true.
The fish, name notwithstanding, is delicious. However, it's range is restricted to the tropical western Atlantic, and readers from North America and Europe are unlikely to find it in their markets. It is a member of the drum or croaker family of fishes and any member of that group will serve well as will any other non-oily, white-fleshed fish that can be filleted.
It's interesting to compare this recipe to the one in the previous post on Flavors of Brazil. The technique for making the pirão is virtually identical - it's the way it's presented and what it accompanies that lifts it from home-style staple to gourmet treat.
RECIPE - Green Weakfish with Pirão (Pirão Gourmet)
fish fumet and pirão
2 heads, green weakfish or other medium-sized non-oily fish
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cubed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 stalks Italian parsley
1 cup manioc flour (farinha) - available in Braziliand and Latin American markets
salt and pepper to taste
4 individual-serving size fillets green weakfish with skin (see above for acceptable substitutes)
4 Tbsp. extravirgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste
green bell pepper, cut into small cubes
red bell pepper, cut into small cubes
Prepare the pirão - Thoroughly wash the fish heads. In a large pan heat the olive oil, then add the onion and bell peppers. Cook until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, and continue cooking until the onion begins to lightly brown. Remove the vegetables and reserve them.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine over low heat. Add the tomato paste and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the fish head(s) plus the reserved vegetables, and cook for a few more minutes. Add cold water to cover, along with the bay leaves and parsley. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam or scum that may form.
Reduce the heat to simmering and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then strain the liquid through a fine strainer. Return the liquid to the heat, in a new pan, and over medium heat reduce it by one half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Reduce heat to simmering. Sprinkle the manioc flour over the surface of the stock, bit by bit, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When all the flour has been added, cook for about 5-10 minutes over very low heat, until the pirão has thickened. Remove from heat, reserve and keep warm.
Prepare the fish - Season the fillets with salt and white pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy, preferably cast iron, frying pan until hot but not smoking. Add the fish fillets and fry, turning once, until the fish is just cooked and the skin is crispy.
Prepare the final dish - Pour hot pirão onto 4 heating dining plates until it almost covers the surface. Carefully place one fillet, skin side up, in the middle of the pirão. Sprinkle the fillet with bell pepper cubes and serve immediately, accompanied by white rice.
Recipe translated and adapted from Revista Gosto #16