I was in Portugal over Christmas and warmed to this historic dish that would, traditionally be cooked in a cataplana. The cataplana originated in the Algarve, it is a hinged pan, shaped like a giant clam – it is clamped shut tightly during cooking to steam the contents and seal in all of the delicious flavours.
The cataplana is a beautiful object in its own right, particularly the traditional hammered copper versions that make for a stunning presentation at the table. These gorgeous, versatile copper pans make an incredible gift for any food lover.
This dish is so simple to prepare and cook and its authentic Portuguese flavour is well worth the effort!
Two dozen small shelled clams
1.5 tablespoons salt
3.5 litres of your finest tap water
4 cloves of crushed garlic
2 onions, finely sliced
1 large green bell pepper, finely sliced
400g peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes (or substitute with a tin)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of quality olive oil
30g finely diced Portuguese presunto (or substitute with Italian prosciutto)
50g diced chouriço (a Spanish chorizo is an excellent substitute)
50g diced smoked ham
Glug of dry white wine
Handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
Clean the clams thoroughly, add 1.5 tablespoons of salt to 3.5 litres of cold water and place the clams to soak whilst you prep your sauce.
Fry the garlic, onions and bell pepper in the olive oil for 5 to 10 minutes until golden and then add the tomato and bay leaves.
Simmer for 20 minutes on a low heat, before adding the passata, presunto, chouriço and ham and simmer gently for another 20 minutes.
ASSEMBLING YOUR CATAPLANA
Take your cataplana (or a heavy skillet with a tight fitting lid if you do not have one) and bring your sauce to a very gentle simmer. Add a generous glug of wine, place your drained clams on top, cover the dish and cook for 20 minutes on a low heat until the clams are all open.
At the end of your cooking time, season the dish with freshly ground pepper, scatter the chopped parsley over the top and serve immediately.
Serve in large shallow bowls with fresh bread to mop up the delicious sauce – take care to discard any unopened clams and make sure you have a bowl on the table for your shells.
This recipe will yield two generous servings but can be easily doubled up for a family / group meal.