Portuguese Seafood Cataplana

Hubby and I spent a little more than two weeks in the south of Portugal. We had a chance to enjoy Lisbon, Sintra, Cacilhas and the Algarve. I have not stopped smiling since we returned. The country was gorgeous, the people were incredible and the food and wine were out of this world.

Posh in the Algarve!
Enjoying a bit of local rose wine in the Algarve region of southern Portugal.

During our stay, we hired a local guide, Verdier, who introduced us to the area and new experiences. One of my favorite things he set up for us was a cooking lesson with a local chef. We made a traditional seafood dish known as cataplana.

Seafood Cataplana
Fresh clams, mussels and white wine contribute to this local favorite.

The dish describes both the cooking vessel and the dish. You can’t have cataplana, without a cataplana! The cataplana is well known to have originated in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. The cataplana is a peculiar and unique culinary utensil typically of Algarve portuguese region. Are basically two half concave pans, united by a security hinge and two side locks, thereby allowing an airtight cooking of the delicacies, and therefore being in essence, precursor of the current pressure cooker.

Copper cataplana pan
The copper version of the cataplana pan is the most traditional.

There are two main theories where it came from, the first and most widely spread is that it came with the Moorish occupation of the region back in the late eighth century. Some believe that it is the Portuguese equivalent of the tagine from northern Africa, and it has more than just a similar cooking process; both dishes also have whatever is made inside named after the cookware! The other, and less heard, theory is that it was made by a Portuguese metal craftsman specializing in copper and stainless steel named Armando Luz (1927-2002).

Moroccan Fish Tagine
Beautiful blue Moroccan Tagine by the Moroccan Chef.com

Traditionally the cataplana was made out of beaten copper in the shape of a clam shell, this made it easy for hunters and fishermen to fill it up with the essentials like garlic, onions, olive oil, and the vegetables of the season to take with them in order to cook their fresh game and catch right there over a fire, be it just off a boat or out in the forest. The cataplana would act much like a pressure cooker in that it would steam the fresh food inside, locking in the flavors and juices while cooking. This made the process fairly quick without too much extra effort other than throwing everything into the pan and letting it simmer away.

If you don’t have a cataplana you can make this recipe in a wok or regular skillet, but try your best to find a cataplana. You can find them on Amazon or a specialty store like Sur la Table and Willams Sonoma.


3 onions thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves chopped

1 red bell pepper thinly sliced

1 cup of olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 lb freshly chopped tomatoes (you can use canned tomatoes as well)

1/2 cup white wine

2 lbs. littleneck clams in the shell, rinsed

11/2 pound prawns, deveined

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoons paprika

1 loaf of good quality bread sliced for dipping

1 cataplana


Over medium head sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the olive oil until the softened.

Add the tomatoes and the bay leaf and cover the cataplana and lower the heat so it simmers for about 30 minutes.

Add the paprika, clams and prawns along with the wine. Cook on gentle heat for 15 minutes, or until the clams open. Once add the parsley to garnish. Serve with slices of bread and enjoy!

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I’m Stephanie Harris-Uyidi, affectionately known as The Posh Pescatarian. I’m a sustainable seafood enthusiast and love sharing recipes, education, and tips for making incredible pescatarian meals. I am an industry expert and an authoritative voice on the pescatarian lifestyle. When I’m not working on new recipes in my lab (AKA: my kitchen!) I enjoy traveling and learning about people, places and culture through food, ingredients, and cooking techniques. I share some of my experiences on my TV show Appetite for Adventure!



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