The Borneo Post - Good English
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RIO DE JANEIRO: Its white flesh is tender and tasty, it can measure up to three meters long and weigh more than 200 kilograms: meet the pirarucu, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, and native to the Amazon.
The enormous animal, once threatened with extinction, is now on dinner plates in Rio de Janeiro’s
fanciest restaurants, thanks to a number of chefs who have
championed the delicacy, and the indigenous communities who ensure its continued survival.
“Without them, there would be nothing left,” says Frederic Monnier, the head chef at the city’s hip Brasserie Rosario.
“What they’re doing for the Amazon is priceless,” adds Jessica Trindade, the Brazilian chef at Chez Claude, an institution in the city’s restaurant scene.
Chef Marcelo Barcellos uses pirarucu in his
moqueca, a fish stew swimming in palm oil and seasoned with coriander that is a signature Brazilian dish originating in the northeastern state of Bahia.
Served with a toasted manioc flour mixture and nuts that come straight from the Amazon basin, the moqueca delights foodies’ taste buds and eyes, as the white fish contrasts with the yellow flour and green spices.
The taste is akin to that of other saltwater whitefish like pollock or cod.
Barcellos, the executive chef and owner of the restaurant Barsa, is one of several Rio chefs who have happily added pirarucu to his menu.
But not that long ago, before pirarucu made it to the top tables in the Marvelous City, Arapaima gigas – or Amazonian cod, as it is sometimes called – almost vanished from menus.
It was brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the establishment at a nature preserve of a
sustainable fishing program with strict quotas. Pirarucu can only be fished from July to November, the non-mating season.
Raising the pirarucu’s profile with Rio’s top chefs has certainly helped.
The Taste of the Amazon project has helped do that. Recently, nine chefs traveled to northern Brazil to observe how the Paumari tribe has established sustainable practices for harvesting pirarucu.
Through their contact with the indigenous fishermen, the chefs learned which parts of the fish are the best. That knowledge ended up on their menus.