A few years ago, our family visited the Azores. As usual, we had an amazing time! It’s always so nice to see friends and family; relax by the ocean; and eat delicious fresh locally-grown (and caught) food. During our visits we usually receive a few lunch and dinner invites from family and friends. We try to accommodate all invites–it’s more eating, relaxing, chatting with friends, and no matter where you are on the island, you’re always close to the ocean.
One of our usual visits is right next door to my parent’s place. Manuel Lourenço is my mom’s cousin, and he and his wife, María José, are not just family, they are also very good friends. They’re the type of family you can count on… anytime, no questions asked. They are kind and generous souls with big hearts. We’ve been lucky to enjoy meals with them at their house as well as at their adega (house where homemade wine is made–also a cottage for many). During our second-last visit, we were invited to their adega and I knew I was in for a treat! Although there’s no shortage of delicious foods on these vacations, I knew they were preparing something I’d never tried before–a Cataplana.
Cataplana is both the name of the meal and the unique Portuguese vessel that it’s cooked in. The Cataplana (the vessel) looks like two woks–with one ‘bowl’ on the bottom and the other on top, creating a sort of dome look when the lid is closed. Food cooks inside this vessel with a bit of pressure and steam. No one seems sure of the exact origin of the Cataplana, but most articles I read say that the Cataplana, as we know it today, began many years ago in the Algarve region of mainland Portugal. More traditional Cataplana meals are made with seafood, fish or both. In more recent years, cataplanas are also made with a variety of meats.
Needless to say, the food we ate at their adega was delicious and memorable! So much so, that the next time we visited, they prepared the same dish because they knew how much I had enjoyed it on the previous visit.
My parents hadn’t forgotten how much I loved that meal and how I’d mentioned wanting to try making cataplana some day. As you may recall, they’re visiting with us for a few months and when they arrived and unpacked, I can’t tell you how excited I was when they pulled a cataplana (the vessel, not the meal) from their luggage. What a treat! I could hardly wait to try it out. Although you can cook many types of food in a Cataplana, I wanted the first one to be just like the traditional one I had at my cousin’s house back on the Island.
I’m so excited to share this recipe with you… and if you’re new to Cataplana, I’m thrilled to introduce you to this wonderful way of cooking. Don’t be afraid to try new things in the kitchen, and always eat well, friends!
- 2 lbs or 900 g clams
- 2 lbs or 900 g black tiger shrimp
- 3¼ lbs or 1.6 kg large grouper steaks, about 1 inch thick (you can use other types of fish such as fresh conger or perch)
- 8 medium size potatoes, peeled and sliced into ½ inch wheels
- 1 medium cooking onion, peeled, thinly sliced and taken apart into onion rings
- 5 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 2 medium size tomatoes, peeled and sliced in ½ inch wheels
- 1 red pepper diced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Tbs course sea salt
- 8 sprigs of large leaf (Italian) parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cups white wine
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 4 sprigs of parsley for garnish
- Drizzle and spread around ½ the oil on the bottom of the cataplana.
- Spread ½ the clams on the bottom of the cataplana.
- Spread ½ the onions slice evenly over the clams.
- Place one full layer of potato slices over the onions.
- Place ½ the fish steaks over the potatoes.
- Sprinkle ½ the salt evenly over the fish.
- Sprinkle ½ the garlic evenly over the fish.
- Place ½ the sprigs of parsley evenly over the fish.
- Spread ½ the shrimp evenly over the fish.
- Layer ½ the tomato slices over the shrimp and fish.
- Spread ½ the diced red pepper over the tomato slices.
- Next, layer the remaining onion slices.
- Layer remaining potato slices over the onions.
- Place remaining fish steaks over the potatoes.
- Sprinkle remaining salt evenly over the fish.
- Sprinkle remaining garlic evenly over the fish.
- Place remaining sprigs of parsley evenly over the fish.
- Spread ¼ of the shrimp evenly over the fish.
- Layer remaining tomato slices over the shrimp and fish.
- For the last layer, spread around the remaining shrimps, clams and diced red pepper.
- In a small bowl, dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and pour it evenly over top.
- Drizzle the remaining olive oil over top of the entire mix.
- Place the lid over the cataplana and lock in place.
- Place the cataplana on the burner at medium high for 15 minutes. You should hear the liquids bubbling inside.
- Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for 30 minutes.
- Carefully (the vessel is hot and will release very hot steam) unlock and open the lid. With a fork, poke one of the potato slices. If the fork pokes through easily, your cataplana is ready. If the potato is still a touch hard, lock the lid and continue to cook another 5 minutes on medium high or until the potato is tender.
- Serve the cataplana hot and enjoy!
- To impress your guests, place the cataplana on the table on a protective surface. Unlock and open the lid and then slide the lid out of the pin. Place the fresh sprigs of parsley on over the dish.
If you don't have a cataplana vessel, you can still make this dish in a wide pot with a tight lid. Adjust timing accordingly.
For this recipe, we used a 14" or 36 cm cataplana. If you have a smaller cataplana, reduce the ingredients by half.