Cataplana, a real communal dish!

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I was contemplating all week about a communal dish I could make for my father. I was celebrating his belated birthday that was long overdue. I couldn’t go past a Cataplana, a Portuguese seafood dish, popular on the country’s Algarve coast. Like a paella it is named after the pan used to prepare the dish. Traditionally made of copper and shaped like two clamshells hinged at one end and able to be sealed using a clamp. The cooking concept of this impressive utensil is also much like a Tagine. The dish is a perfect centre piece on any table. It surely brings people together at social gatherings and I was looking forward to doing that with my family and a nice glass of white wine.

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While I was preparing the Cataplana my mother suggested the dish is similar to Chile’s seafood stew called Curanto. It may be as both iconic dishes include capsicum, onions and paprika as key ingredients.  I think many coastal regions around the globe with an abundance of good seafood have similar versions of seafood stews. Like the Catalan Suquet, Marseille’s Bouillabaisse and Chile’s Curanto, which my mother promises to make next time.

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Make sure to search for fresh seafood and jump at the sight of clams as they go so well in this recipe. I was lucky to find firm king prawns, squid, bream fillets and Cloudy Bay Clams.

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Don’t leave the sight of your pan, as it needs your complete attention, well for at least thirty minutes, and trust me it will be time well spent. While the pan gently simmers, close your eyes,  if you are lucky the aromas may take your mind to a little seaside town, hopefully in Portugal. Aromas can trigger your senses and take you to places where dishes originate from, food can take you on a trip around the globe! As soon as the Cataplana is ready, don’t let it sit, quickly take it to your guests. The sight and aromas are sure to impress, on this occasion my parents welcome the dish with a clap and cheerful laughter. My father does the honours and generously pours the wine, I open the lid of the pan and the rest is a blissful memory.

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Recipe (serves 4)

  • 1 red capsicum, chopped into 2 cm squares, keep aside two 1 cm slices
  • 1 green capsicum, chopped into 2 cm squares, keep aside two 1 cm slices
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 4 pontiac potatoes, cut into 1cm slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tsp of smoked sweet paprika
  • 2 fresh oregano stalks
  • 2 tsp of sea salt
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 glass of good white wine
  • 2 glasses of water
  • 2 medium squids, use the tentacles
  • 12 king prawns
  • 400g of bream fillets
  • 400g of clams

Tips

Grate your tomatoes to extract the pulp, it will add depth to your broth. Saute the onions, capsicum and garlic until soft and translucent. Add salt, paprika and bay leaves, stir well to help your spices release their oils. Pour your wine, deglaze the pan with the help of your wooden spoon. After 2 minutes pour in your tomato pulp, stir and now add the water and bring to a simmer. Throw your potatoes in, make sure they are all covered with the broth, simmer them for 12 minutes. Start to drop your seafood, first goes in your fish, followed by your prawns, squid and clams. Place your sliced capsicums and oregano on top, close the lid and gently simmer for 7 minutes. Make sure to choose medium size clams as they should be the star the dish.

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