Braai season: piri-piri prawns


Photograph: Joe Woodhouse

With schools out and restrictions lifting, barbecue season is firmly here. Inspired by the braais of South Africa, our Head Chef Stewart Turner offers a recipe for spicy prawns with a vibrant salsa, while we suggest what to sip while you stoke the flames

Piri-piri (also spelt peri-peri) is a type of chilli that was originally produced by Portugese explorers in Mozambique. Today it is most widely known for piri-piri sauce, a seasoning or marinade made from these chillies. While we may think of it as a Portuguese sauce, it is actually African in origin and is especially prevalent in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Barbecues, or “braais” as they’re known to the locals, are like a religion in South Africa. The word “braai” is an integral part of any local’s lexicon and is an important cultural event for any visitor to South Africa. For other parts of the world where it is common to use gas, electricity or charcoal to fuel a barbecue, the South Africans almost always use wood – charcoal is sometimes considered cheating, and cultivating the perfect flame using wood is considered a true art form.

Try your hand at it with these prawns, or – should the English weather be less barbecue-friendly – griddle them indoors, while dreaming of sunny Cape scenes. The recipe makes more piri-piri sauce than you need, but it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Barbecued piri-piri king prawns with sweetcorn salsaServes 6
  • 4 long red chillies
  • 2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
  • 15g smoked paprika
  • 45ml white wine vinegar
  • 80ml rapeseed oil, plus more to drizzle
  • 24 tiger prawns – peeled with the heads removed but tails intact, deveined
  • A handful of basil leaves – torn
  • Lime wedges, to serve

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roast the chillies on a tray in the oven for eight to 10 minutes, until soft and lightly browned. Roughly chop the chillies, removing some of the seeds if you prefer a milder dish. Place them in a small pan with the garlic, paprika, vinegar, 80ml of the oil and a good pinch of salt. Simmer for two minutes. Cool slightly, then blend in a food processor until smooth.  Leave to cool completely.

Place two to three tablespoons of the sauce in a bowl and mix in the prawns (the leftover sauce will keep for up to a month, covered, in the fridge). Thread the prawns onto metal or wooden skewers (if you are using wooden skewers, pre-soak in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes).

Drizzle the skewers with a drop of oil and grill on a barbecue or griddle pan for about two minutes on each side. Finish with the torn basil leaves and serve with lime wedges and the sweetcorn salsa (recipe below).

Sweetcorn salsa

  • 2 fresh corn on the cobs
  • 2 plum tomatoes – peeled, de-seeded and diced
  • Half a red onion – chopped
  • 1 red pepper – de-seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado – stoned, peeled and diced
  • 1 red chilli – de-seeded and finely diced
  • A handful of coriander – roughly chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil

Bring a pan of water to the boil then add the corn on the cobs. Boil for about eight minutes, or until the kernels are tender, then refresh in cold water. Cut the corn off the cobs and put in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, onion, red pepper, avocado, chilli and coriander. Season to taste and finish with the olive oil and lime juice. Mix well and serve alongside the prawn skewers.

What to drink: As the South African government has once more put a ban on the sale of alcohol, export markets are key to producers’ survival. As such, it’s a great time to drink South African – whether or not it’s with Chef’s piri-piri prawns. The challenge here is chilli: the heat of chilli can strip a wine of fruit, making it seem acidic and thin when white, or with reds make even something relatively soft seem drying and astringent.

I’d firmly look to whites for these juicy tiger prawns, and the vibrant salsa. Mullineux’s light and bright Kloof Street Chenin – on the crisp, clean end of the spectrum – would take you from apéritif through the meal, but something rounder and richer would be preferable. Provided you’re judicious with the chilli, Richard Kershaw’s pinpoint yet weighty Clonal Selection Chardonnay with its layer of nutty toasty oak could work nicely. Looking beyond South Africa, try a rich Alsatian Pinot Gris, or a richer, sunshine-filled Californian Riesling. Off-dry styles, however, would be my go-to here – the sweetness offsetting the heat of the dish neatly: this Tendre Chenin from Vincent Carême (who also happens to make wine in South Africa) would be wonderful, as would any off-dry Riesling, but this Spätlese from Merkelbach looks particularly appealing.