A cataplana, a fixture in the Algarve, is kind of a spiritual cousin to the pressure cooker. Shaped like a giant clam, the hinged pan clamps down during cooking, locking in the juices of its contents. When carried to the table and popped open, it fills the room with steam redolent of the sea. If you’re bereft of a cataplana, a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid works perfectly, if less attractively. I first had this meaty cataplana 12 years ago in Bridgewater, Connecticut, of all places, at the home of my friends Manny Almeida and Kevin Bagley. Manny, who’s from the same Azorean island as my family, just whipped it up one summer evening. I’ve since had it many times in Portugal, most memorably at an ocean-side joint in the town of Sagres, just east of the vertiginous promontory where Henry the Navigator supposedly built a school and shipyard for his sailors.
Read Related: Portuguese White Gazpacho with Clams
CLAMS & SAUSAGE IN A CATAPLANA
3 T olive oil
8 oz chouriço, linguiça, or dry-cured smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into ¼-inch coins
One ¼-inch-thick slice presunto, Serrano ham, or prosciutto, trimmed of excess fat and cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 medium yellow onions, cut lengthwise in half and sliced into thin half-moons
1 Turkish bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained and chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
4 pounds small clams, such as cockles, manila, butter, or littlenecks, scrubbed and rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Heat the oil in a large cataplana or a pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Dump in the chouriço (or dry-cured Spanish chorizo) and presunto (or Serrano ham, prosciutto) and cook, stirring occasionally, until touched with brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Lower the heat to medium; drop in the onions and bay leaf, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the tomatoes and any accumulated juice, the wine, and paprika. Discard any clams that feel heavy (which means they’re full of sand), have broken shells, or don’t close when tapped. Plonk the clams into the pot and turn the heat to high. If using a cataplana, lock it and cook 10 to 12 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the clams open. If using a Dutch oven, cook, covered, stirring occasionally until the clams pop open, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Carry the cataplana triumphantly to the table, making sure everyone’s watching, then release the lid. Bask in the applause. Discard the bay leaf and toss out any clams that refuse to pop open. Season with a few grinds of pepper, shower with parsley, and ladle the stew into wide shallow bowls. Oh, and have a big bowl on hand for the shells.
Photos © 2009 Nuno Correia. All rights reserved.