The famously ferocious piranha is an important food fish in the Pantanal - the world's largest wetland, located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. During the half of the year that the Pantanal is flooded, its rivers, lakes and ponds abound with fresh-water fish, including the needle-toothed carnivorous piranha. The piranha is generally caught with nets, though their teeth wreak havoc on the nets and they must be extracted with extreme care if one wishes to avoid a nasty bite. But residents of the Pantanal prize the flavor and taste of the piranha so much that they are willing to take the risks involved in fishing for them.
It's extremely unlikely that most readers of Flavors of Brazil will ever have the opportunity to make the following recipe at home. Availability of piranhas at local markets is a definite problem, and fishing for them entails risks. The geographical range of this fish has traditionally been restricted to South America, although, according to Wikipedia, aquarium piranhas have been introduced into parts of the USA with specimens occasionally found in the Potomac River and Lake of Ozarks. So readers from those regions just might be able to impress friends and family with a nice bowl of piranha soup. In any case, here is how it's made.
(Although I haven't tried to do so, I think this soup could be made successfully with many different small fresh-water fish, such as perch, walleye, pike, etc.)
RECIPE - Piranha Soup (Caldo de Piranha)
4 lbs (2 kg) piranhas - approximately 10 fish
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. white wine or cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. green onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
Clean and descale the fish, then cut them into large chunks. Place the chunks of fish in a large bowl and season with the garlic, lime juice, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, then let marinate in the refrigerator for approximately 2 hours.
In a large saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup of oil over medium high heat. Add the chunks of piranha and stir-fry for a few minutes. Lower the heat, then add boiling water to cover the fish, bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the fish is tender. Remove from heat, then using a strainer remove the fish from the broth, reserving both.
Let the fish cool. Once cool enough to handle, carefully remove all bones from the pieces of fish. Place the fish pieces and the reserved broth in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a smooth mixture. Reserve.
In another saucepan heat the 2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, the green pepper strips and the copped onion and cook until the onions are transparent and all ingredients are softened. Add the piranha broth from the blender or food processor to the pan, then the chopped green onion and cilantro. Heat thoroughly.
Remove from heat, pour into a serving tureen and serve immediately, accompanied by hot-pepper sauce.
Recipe translated and adapted from Viagem Gastronômica através do Brasil by Caloca Fernandes (Editora Senac)