Portuguese Fish Stew (Cataplana) is as traditional a Portuguese dish as you can get. It’s an absolute seafood sensation that’s not unlike a bouillabaisse but without the hard work. A combination of seafood is steamed in its own juices along with wine, tomato puree and fresh coriander to create a beautifully flavoured sauce. A simple, fuss free seafood stew!
Travelling and eating my way through Portugal recently was pure delight, not just because of the simple and unpretentious nature of the seafood dishes, but also because the locals were so willing to share their recipes with me.
Portuguese Fish Stew (Cataplana) was one of those recipes. The restaurant we chose to try this dish was only tiny with just a few tables, and once ordered the stew took a just little longer than normal to arrive. The freshness of the seafood is critical in this stew which means that everything needs to be made on the spot. The wait was totally worth it!
The staff of the restaurant took it as a compliment that l was so interested in learning how to make this dish. So, from the scrawly handwritten notes taken on a paper serviette, l present to you Portuguese Fish Stew (Cataplana).
The Cooking Pot
Cataplana is both the Portuguese name of this dish and the name of the pot it is prepared in. Two clam-shaped shells are hinged together during cooking to allow its contents to be steam-cooked. A shallow sided saucepan with a tight fitting lid will do just nicely if you don’t plan on buying a cataplana (they are expensive). I use a shallow sided pot which measures 16 cm / 6″ at the base and 25 cm / 10″ across the top.
About the Seafood
ONLY the freshest seafood will do. Select a fish that doesn’t flake easily; you want it to keep its shape while cooking. I have chosen clams, cod fish and prawns, but you don’t have to be limited by my selection. You can substitute with mussels, crab and lobster tails.
The one thing you need to remember is to add the seafood according to the time it takes to cook. In other words, what takes longer to cook goes in first.
Before l wrap up, l encourage you to make your own fish stock … it’s sooo easy and while it’s simmering, you’re prepping the other ingredients. No extra time required and you are making it with the ingredients you have already bought (assuming you have bought prawns / shrimp).
Simple, homely and uncomplicated; this is a dish for those cooks who want a robust fish stew that’s doesn’t take hours to prepare.
Preparation Time: 20 mins or 30 mins if making homemade fish stock
Cook Time: 15 mins
The Fish Stew
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes (note 1)
- 1 medium red / Spanish onion, thinly sliced
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 small red capsicum / bell pepper, sliced in 1 cm / 1/2″ thickness
- 1 small green capsicum / bell pepper, sliced in 1 cm / 1/2″ thickness
- Optional: 3 small potatoes (note 2)
- 500 g / 1 lb fish (note 3)
- 1 cup passata / tomato puree
- 1 cup fish stock or water
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 sprigs coriander plus 1 extra
- 500 g / 1 lb large prawns / shrimp (note 4)
- 500 g / 1 lb small clams
Optional: Homemade Fish Stock (it’s dead easy)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- prawns heads
- fish off cuts (note 3)
- 2 cups water
The Fish Stock
- Heat oil in small saucepan over moderate heat.
- Add garlic. Saute for 20 seconds.
- Add prawn heads and fish off cuts. Cook until prawn heads have turned orange.
- Use a potato masher or similar to crush the prawn heads.
- Add water.
- Cook over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until liquid has reduced by half.
The Fish Stew
- Heat oil in a saucepan over moderate heat (note 5). Add the garlic. Saute for 15 seconds.
- Add the chili flakes, onion, bay leaf and bell peppers. Do not move anything around.
- Place fish portions on top, then add the tomato puree, fish stock, wine and coriander sprigs.
- Cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes or until fish is almost cooked through.
- Add the potatoes, prawns / shrimp and clams. Cover with lid and cook for 5 minutes or until prawns have turned orange and clams have opened. Taste the sauce. Add salt if required.
- Transfer to a serving platter. Decorate with coriander leaves and serve with rice and crusty bread.
- Piri piri or peri peri sauce is a spicy, hot sauce commonly added to this fish stew. I haven’t found it in my local supermarkets but l have seen it is in Nando’s (a South African restaurant chain specialising in flame grilled peri peri chicken). Nando’s sells it in bottles but I haven’t tried it yet. As an alternative l used chili flakes.
- Wash potatoes. Keep skins on. Place in small bowl with 1/4 cup water. Cover with cling film. Microwave on high for 3 minutes or until almost cooked through. Cool, peel then halve.
- Select fish that does not flake easily. I either use cod or leather jackets. Mahi or halibut are other options. Cut fish into portions. Use any off cuts for your fish stock.
- Devein all but 4 prawns, keeping tails on. The whole prawns are purely decorative.
- Please read information under Cooking Pot.