Cataplana – the perfect dinner party dish.jpg

Cataplana – the perfect dinner party dish

By Liz Griffiths [email protected]

Liz Griffiths recently moved to the Algarve, after finishing her degree in Journalism and Editorial Design in the UK. She joined the Algarve Resident to assist the editorial team. Her main passions are fashion, travel and vinho verde!

The cataplana has long been regarded as the centre piece in kitchens across the Algarve.

For social gatherings, the cataplana has been chosen by the Portuguese as the dish of choice for entertaining family and friends. Much like Morocco’s tagine, cataplana is the name for both the food and the cooking utensil.

The ease of throwing all of your ingredients into one pot and letting it simmer away means that the cataplana is the perfect dish to serve when entertaining. There will be no mopping of the brow as you work away in the kitchen while your guests are left to entertain themselves.

With this dish you’ll be able to sit down, relax and sip on chilled Vinho Verde, which is highly recommended with the cataplana, as all the hard work can be done before your guests arrive.

The cataplana is essentially a large dish with a retractable lid that can be snugly sealed to let the ingredients bubble away. The easiest way to describe a cataplana is two woks being closed together.

An authentic cataplana is made of copper but they are now made in various more modern materials.

Portugal has had a long relationship with the fish and meat dish. The cataplana is of Moorish descent when Portugal was under its occupation in the eighth century AD for 600 years. It was initially a seafood dish using clams and mussels but now it is most common to have a mixture of both meat and seafood – the most famous being pork and clams.

Meat and seafood make an excellent combination. The Spanish are famous for their Paella but only the Portuguese have used the combination of pork and clams. The result of the meat and seafood cooked in a tightly snug dish, along with vegetables and spices, is a sweet-tasting, tender, heart warming meal.

Many variations make an excellent cataplana – chicken with potatoes, fish and vegetables… basically with this dish you can put together whatever you desire; there are no rules, only that all the ingredients are cooked together and served very hot!

The advantage of serving cataplana at a dinner party is the ease of serving the dish to your guests. Place the cataplana in the middle of the table with the lid still sealed and open it before your guest’s eyes as they gasp at the amount of steam that will escape before them.

Only a big spoon and dishes are required as your guests can delve in and spoon out however much they like. With the cataplana, the meat, fish, vegetables and potatoes are all in the same dish, so there is no need to mess around in the kitchen with numerous pots and pans.

To finish off the meal with perfection is to accompany the meal with a very chilled vinho verde, the slightly sparkly crisp white wine from Northern Portugal. The fresh and light tingly of the bubbles on your tongue is perfect against the richness of the cataplana’s taste. Two vinho verdes I highly recommend to serve alongside the cataplana are Quinta de Azevedo and Casal Garcia, which are both fresh and light tasting for those warm summer nights.

Here is an easy cataplana recipe for you to try at home:

Pork and Clam Cataplana (serves four people)

1. Soak eight to 10 fresh clams per serving for two hours in water and grease both halves of the interior of the cataplana.

2. Fry about 1 1/2 Ibs of cubed pork that has been marinated in white wine overnight, adding lard, garlic, a bay leaf, a sprinkling of chili powder and some salt. Add more white wine to the pork while it is frying.

3. Put the clams into the dish first, then the pork. Add a green pepper and a tomato, each sliced very thin. Add a handful of small pieces of cooked ham and plenty of parsley, with a little salt and some water.

4. Seal the lid and place the dish on the top of a stove for 10 minutes over a moderate heat.

5. Just before the 10 minutes are up, open the cataplana, add lemon juice and close it again until it has cooked through. Remove the cataplana from the stove and then open the lid just before serving.

6. Serve the cataplana in soup bowls with plenty of fresh, crusty bread for soaking up all of those gravy juices.