Not just any chilly – understanding the chillies that go into Goan dishes
Sometime ago I wrote an article entitled ‘The Tapestry of Taste – why your curry is not as good as your grandmothers.’ In this article I want to explore one ingredient that truly makes all the difference to Goan cooking namely chillies.
Chillies make a world of a difference to Goan cuisine. The red chilly powder, from just about any packet is just no good for Goan cuisine. From the soil in which it is grown to the pot in which it is cooked, the ingredients, especially the chillies and the method of cooking makes all the difference in reviving the tapestry of taste.
The Portuguese brought the chillies to India and from that point on the heat is on. Chillies which are predominantly found in warmer climates have another benefit. The chilly helps the body perspire which in turn helps the body stay cool.
Chillies in Goa are named after their village or county of origin. Local chillies are called gavti meaning local. There are several types of chillies in Goa and often used in combinations to get that great curry flavour. Goan Hindus use mostly gavti chillies and each house hold has their own preference. Goan Hindu fish curries are very different from their Christian neighbours in flavour.
Kashmiri Chilly: The primary chilly used in Goan cuisine is Kashmiri chilly. This forms the base for all dishes. These wrinkled chillies whose origin is from the valley in Kashmir are now widely grown all over. When it comes to fish or a prawn curry in the North, you use a combination of Kashmiri chillies and the butao chilly which in Portuguese means button because the chilly looks like a button. So if your recipe calls for twelve chillies use about eight Kashmiri chillies to four butao chillies. The Kashmiri chillies available in Goa are fatter and bigger than the ones you source in Maharashtra.
Aldona /Moira Chillies: These villages are famous for three chilly varieties but the most famous among them are the Motio. Motio simply means fat and these chillies are dark to black, about three inches long. This Aldona chilly is not spicy but adds a dark colour and could also be darker than the Kashmiri chilly adding to a nice texture and colour profile to the dish.
From this region you also have the Mosurio (or also called the butao) which are about an inch long and fat and finally the Kasmirion, about 5 inches long, dark red or black red in colour and add bulk to the preparation. The Motio are sold in numbers and not by weight. Last week I paid Rs200 for 50 chillies from a lady in Mapusa in the flower market section. The heat in your stomach can even reach your pocket!
The Motio chillies are mildly hot, they are best when roasted and ground. They are often used to give bulk to a dish. They are versatile and are used in fish curries and meat preparations such as sorpotel. The Motio are also used to make dishes like vindaloo or in sorpotel or for a meat curry where you need a lot of bulk and a nice dark colour. They are also used for making parra, a spicy pickled fish dish. Since the Motio are thick skinned they need to be ground for a longer time. When used in fish curry, they are soaked in warm water before grinding them, to soften them up.
Canacona chilly / Kholchyo are used predominantly in South Goan curries. Some say that this is the southern version of the Aldona chilly. They have a medium hot profile.
Piri Piri chilly/ Tarvoti / Butao (also called Mosrio ) – was brought in by the Portuguese to Goa. These thin skinned chillies are very spicy with a high flavour profile and are small and red in colour.