The word “cataplana” refers not only to the shell-shaped copper kitchen utensil but also to the delicious dishes that are made in it. The utensil consists of two concave halves joined by a hinge and two side clasps that seal the ingredients inside, ensuring that all the flavours and aromas are retained and blend together in a way that no other kitchen utensil can match.
The food is cooked by slowly steaming in the airtight cataplana over a low heat. This method of cooking gives the food a unique and characteristic flavour that you will want to enjoy again and again.
Originally made from copper, there are cataplanas on the market today that can be used on modern induction or glass-ceramic hobs.
Little is known about the origins of the cataplana in the Algarve, but everything points to the first appearance of the utensil having been during the period of Arab dominance in the region. Its invention may have been inspired by the many bivalves that populate the Ria Formosa.
We have access to ancient documents that mention digging a hole in the ground where the cataplana would be set on top of burning embers and covered with sand. This type of outdoor cooking is documented in historical records, and when you look at the shape of the cataplana, this suggestion seems to make perfect sense.
To this day, cataplanas are made by artisans who shape the copper by hitting it slowly and precisely with a hammer, giving the utensil all its charm.
There is no end to the number of dishes you can make in a cataplana. Particularly noteworthy among them are Amêijoas à Portimonense (Portimão-style Clams), Amêijoas na Cataplana (Clam Cataplana), Perdizes com Amêijoas na Cataplana (Partridge and Clam Cataplana), Cataplana de Porco com Amêijoas (Pork and Clam Cataplana), and Cataplana de Tamboril (Monkfish Cataplana), but there are many others we could mention.
Every year, in the month of June, one festival is held in honour of the cataplana, the “Festa da Cataplana”, in Castro Marim.
In the book «Cataplana Algarvia» you can find all the history and recipes that you can make with this prodigious utensil.
Give it a go. You’ll be surprised at all the dishes you can create with your cataplana. Enjoy your meal.