Cataplana is an adaptable and easy to make traditional Portuguese stew from the Algarve, cooked in the distinctive flying saucer shaped cataplana pan. Follow my instructions from my recent masterclass with Portuguese Chef Nelson Candeias and learn to make an authentic seafood cataplana at home.
When I travel I love to dive into the local cuisine and eat as many regional specialties and traditional dishes as my budget and time allows. On my recent trip to Four Seasons Fairways, close to Faro on the south coast in Portugal‘s Algarve, I was taught to cook a seafood cataplana – probably the most traditional and local dish that you can get from the region, and on the menu of all the local restaurants.
What is a Cataplana?
Cataplana is both the name of the dish and the pot that it is cooked in. There are two types of cataplana: either seafood packed with both fish and seafood, or a pork and clam version. The seafood version is cooked in a tomato sauce with lots of onion and red and green peppers. The cataplana pot looks rather like a flying saucer with a dome shaped base and clip on lid. The lid holds in the steam when the dish is cooking, so the sauce simmers, but the seafood arranged on top will steam.
Chef Nelson Candeias
Chef Nelson, the executive chef at Four Seasons Fairways, is from Faro, which is short distance from the resort. There is a weekly Algarvian night with local dishes such as this Cataplana, as well as other Portuguese inspired but more “cheffy” dishes on the menu.
The basis of the Portuguese Kitchen
“Onion garlic, red & green peppers” says Chef Nelson, along with “Louro (Bay leaf) and coriander”. Also “you can never have too much garlic” he added!
What ingredients do I need to make a seafood Cataplana?
For the cataplana sauce you need onions, garlic, red and green peppers (a ratio of 50% onion : 25% red : 25% green peppers) along with crushed canned tomatoes, good quality Portuguese olive oil, sea salt and of course some Portuguese white wine. Once the sauce is made you then add some lobster sauce and the seafood.
Choose a good selection of seafood for your cataplana, lobster tails, tiger prawns, mussels, clams, crayfish, and several types of firm white fish (we used monkfish and grouper). Use what is freshly caught and in the market.
For the real wow factor when the cataplana is opened you need to arrange the seafood very carefully – the tiger prawns are folded in half and tucked in upright, then the rest of the seafood is arranged around them. Sprinkle with coriander and close the lid.
What can I use instead of a cataplana pan?
You can buy cataplana pans in specialist cookshops, or from Amazon but they can be expensive. If you want to make this delicious dish you can use a regular cast iron casserole dish or Dutch Oven that has a well fitting lid, or even two heavy woks of the same size, using one as lid.
How can I save some time when making cataplana?
You can make the lobster sauce ahead of time, and either keep it in the fridge, where it will be fine for a day or so, or freeze it.
Once the dish has cooked which takes about a quarter of an hour longer, garnish with the freshly chopped coriander and it’s ready to eat, with some fresh crusty bread and a glass of wine. For the best wow factor, how about bringing the cataplana pot to the table with the lid back on and then remove with a flourish, for supper with pizazz!
Here is how to make it
Traditional Portuguese Seafood Cataplana
- 2 Lobsters (heads and shells)
- 100 ml Olive oil
- 1 Onion
- 2 Garlic cloves
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 Ripe tomato
- 50 ml Brandy
- 2 l water
- 2 onions ((peeled))
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 green pepper
- 1 red pepper
- 30 ml Olive Oil
- 20 ml white wine
- 440 g ripe tomatoes ((or one can good quality tinned))
- Bay Leaf
- 150 ml Lobster sauce
- 2 Lobster tails ((chopped into chunks, salted well))
- 200 g Clams
- 200 g Mussels
- 200 g Tiger Prawns ((peeled))
- 200 g Langoustines
- 200 g Monkfish ((chopped into chunks, salted well))
- 200 g Grouper ((chopped into chunks, salted well))
- 4 tbs Coriander (finely chopped)
- Cut the lobster’s heads and shells into little pieces and fry them in olive oil.
- Next, add the onion, garlic and carrot, all chopped, followed by the bay leaf, black peppercorns and let it braise well.
- Add the chopped tomato and allow the juices to reduce.
- Add the Brandy and allow to reduce.
- Add the water and season with salt.
- Allow it to stew until the liquid reduces to two thirds.
- Season to taste.
- Strain the sauce to remove the shells before serving.
- Cut the onions, garlic and peppers into thin slices.
- Pour olive oil on the bottom of the “Cataplana” pan
- Add the vegetables and allow to braise
- Once the vegetables are braised add the wine.
- Add the lobster sauce, tomatoes and half the coriander chopped coriander, season with salt and let it stew.
- Once the sauce has reduced, add the fish, prawns, clams and some of the mussels. Mix well.
- Pinch the tiger prawns in half and stand them up in the middle of the pan, arrange the remainder of the seafood around them.
- Close the Cataplana pan and allow to cook for 15 minutes, checking the seasoning half way though.
- Once cooked scatter with the remaining coriander before serving.
We visited Four Seasons Fairways on a press trip where we learnt to cook this traditional Portuguese seafood cataplana recipe. All opinions our own.