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Portuguese hot pot

When the two halves of the cataplana part, the flavors surpass the sum of the ingredients

By Joan Namkoong

LAST UPDATED: 4:29 p.m. HST, Sep 11, 2014

Years ago, a dear friend gave me a cataplana, a wonderful cooking vessel for a delicious one-pot meal, that was hand-carried from Portugal.

The cataplana consists of two bowl-shaped halves, the top and bottom hinged together. It is generally made of hammered copper with copper hinges, handles and clamps. The inside of the rounded halves is lined with tin and the bottom half holds about 6 cups.

Once filled with food, the cataplana is clamped shut and placed on the stove top to cook the ingredients, stewing and coaxing flavors and melding them to perfection. (It's a Portuguese version of the hot pot.) When cooking is done, the cata­plana is taken to the table, where a cloud of steam and aromas burst forth as it is opened.

While the cataplana vessel is ideally suited for this type of cooking, it is the dish itself — the combination of ingredients — that makes cataplana a wonderful idea. In other words, you can make the dish with a simple large (5- to 6-quart) saucepan or Dutch oven already in your kitchen. A straight-sided deep pot with a lid known as a French cocotte would suffice for a cataplana; a cast-iron one would be ideal. The main thing is that it is wide and deep with a lid and it can go onto the stove top.

To make the dish, layer several items: sausage, onions, potatoes, leafy greens, seafood, tomatoes — the list of ingredients can vary according to what's in season and to your taste. I like to use a spicy Portuguese sausage, cut into thin slices; chorizo and Andouille work well, too. Italian sausage can work if you remember to keep your other ingredients to an Italian theme. In that case, pancetta, prosciutto, basil, garlic and tomatoes might be included in the pot.

For leafy greens, chard and kale are ideal, because they add their earthy flavor to the stew while maintaining their texture. Chopped tomatoes and onions lend elemental flavors, while red peppers and capers can be included for color and texture.

Seafood is the main protein of a cataplana. Clams, mussels, fish, shrimp, lobster, crab and scallops can all be included, or you can just have one or two of these. The main thing is that the items are fresh.

White wine, olive oil, salt and pepper are all the seasonings you need for this dish. The pot is sealed or covered and placed over medium-high heat for 20 to 30 minutes. As the ingredients cook, individual flavors are extracted and blended together for a tasty stew that's incredibly good.

Scoop out portions into bowls, ladling the broth, too. Crusty bread is a must for sopping up the liquid of this delicious one-pot meal.


1 pound chard or kale
1 onion, sliced thin
Salt and pepper
3 Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 ounces Portuguese sausage, sliced
1 pound fish such as mahimahi, nairage, monchong or shutome (swordfish)
1 pound Kauai shrimp or other shellfish, shelled and deveined
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces, or a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 whole lemon, seeded and sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, seeded, sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup capers
2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil

For chard, cut leaves lengthwise through the stem, then cut into 1/2-inch wide strips crosswise. For kale, remove stems and discard; stack leaves and cut into 1/2-inch wide strips crosswise.

In cataplana or other deep saucepan, place chard or kale at the bottom, then add onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add potatoes in a layer, top with sausage. Layer fish and shrimp, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add tomatoes in a layer, top with lemon, bell pepper and capers. Pour white wine and olive oil over all.

Seal cataplana or cover saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook 20 minutes.

Carefully remove cover and ladle ingredients into bowls along with broth. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (based on chard and mahimahi and not including salt to taste): 700 calories, 35 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 215 mg cholesterol, greater than 1400 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 39 g protein.


Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., a nutritionist in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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