Southern Portugal is three quarters surrounded by the sea so it is not surprising that fish and seafood are heavily featured in the Portuguese diet and gave rise to the unique invention of the perfect vessel, the cataplana, for steaming shellfish.
Cataplana, much like the word tagine, is the name of both the recipe and the utensil in which it is cooked. The vessel is a two-part hinged, domed pan of hammered copper, lined with tin, which looks much like two woks placed together. It is of Moorish design and was introduced to Southern Portugal during their occupation from the 8th Century AD. Clams and mussels, often accompanied by pieces of pork are placed in the bottom pan, the hinged, domed lid of equal size fastened tightly to create an optimum environment for steaming. When the dish has completed cooking it is traditionally brought to the table closed. At that point the lid is opened to release the fragrant aromas. The hinged, domed top becomes the vessel for the discarded clam and mussel shells.
Our cataplana was used solely for presentation… and what a magnificent presentation it makes! To cook the dish we utilized a large enamel-coated cast-iron dutch oven which worked perfectly. With a few personal tweaks and additions here is our interpretation of Portuguese – Style Clams and Pork…
Portuguese – Style Clams and Pork
Place in a medium-sized bowl:
1-1/2 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1″ cubes
1 C dry white wine
1/2 C white vinegar
1 T smoked paprika
2 T ground coriander
5 whole peeled garlic cloves, smashed
3 whole fresh bay leaves, cut up
Stir well to incorporate and marinate overnight, covered with film, at room temperature.
Chef’s Note: Because of the acidity of the liquid there is no need to fear spoilage.
Drain the pork, discarding the marinating liquid as well as the solids:
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and season with:
- All Purpose Meat Rub
Over an open flame char until well-blackened:
- 1 large red bell pepper
Immediately place charred bell pepper into a plastic bag and allow to steam for 20 minutes. While the bell pepper is steaming, scrub well, rinse and set to the side:
2 – 2-1/2 lb manila clams
When the pepper has finished steaming remove the charred skin with your fingers, using a paper towel to remove any remaining charred bits.
Do not rinse under running water as this will remove much of the lovely smokiness acquired during charring. Cut the pepper into thin strips and set to the side.
To a large enameled cast-iron dutch oven over moderately high heat add:
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
When the oil begins to shimmer add:
2 large white onions, thinly sliced
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are becoming soft and translucent. Add:
4 whole garlic cloves, minced
Stir to incorporate and cook for a minute or two. Add:
the roasted bell pepper strips
Stir to incorporate. Add:
the seasoned pork
1/4 lb (1 link) spicy linguica, cut into coins
Stir to combine then add:
1 – 28-oz can whole tomatoes, crushed, drained and chopped
1/2 C tomato juice
1 T chile garlic sauce
Chef’s Note: The chili garlic sauce can be found in the Asian food section of your local market; we use the Lee Kum Kee brand. This chili garlic sauce is similar to a Portuguese product containing hot chilis and garlic and is an excellent substitute.
1 T tomato paste
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Stir well to incorporate and bring to a simmer, adjusting heat as necessary. Braise, covered, for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender:
To the pan add:
the scrubbed manila clams
Return the cover to the pan and steam the clams for 10 – 15 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened. Ladle immediately into warmed bowls to which have been added steamed rice perfumed with fresh bay leaf, whole black peppercorns and a cinnamon stick… or serve with copious amounts of warm, crusty sourdough bread to soak up every last drop of luscious, savory broth… Bon Appetit!
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