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When in Portugal

By Cheryl Forberg, RD

This spring, we spent a heavenly month in Portugal. Since dining is our favorite pastime, we couldn’t have selected a better location.

We absolutely love every form of fish and seafood. And Portugal is near the top of the list in terms of the largest fish consumption in the world.

It’s no wonder, since nearly half of the country’s circumference is coastal. The Portuguese are serious when it comes to freshness. One of our first tips upon arrival was to never order seafood in a restaurant on Mondays since commercial fishing is not allowed on Sundays. In other words, if it’s more than a day old, it’s not fresh enough!

Among the plethora of seafood available in Portugal, we tried sardines, tuna, octopus, gooseneck barnacles, clams, mussels, squid, sea bream, sole, cod, crab, monkfish, limpets, shrimp, black scabbardfish – and we didn’t even try all that was available. Fresh seafood markets were easy to find and were open to restaurant chefs and the public. Some of the markets had restaurants on-site so you could purchase your own fish (or clams or ???), take a seat at the restaurant, and tell the server how you would like the fish prepared.

Over the course of a month, we visited Portugal’s island of Madeira, and coastal and inland cities from the Algarve in the South, to Porto, north of Lisbon. We had sushi, sashimi, fried sardines, roasted octopus, sauteed squid, grilled sea bream, and a long list of other fabulous dishes. We couldn’t get enough, and I would go back tomorrow and not change a thing.

One of our favorite dishes was Cataplana. Somewhat similar to bouillabaisse or cioppino, Cataplana is a delicious fish soup (or stew, depending on how brothy it is) that is often made with clams, shrimp, and fish, such as sea bream. Some chefs even add a little meat to the mix, typically pork or chorizo.

Cataplana is named after the vessel in which it is cooked and served (although it can easily be prepared in a Dutch oven or small stockpot). A cataplana is similar to a clamshell in that the pan’s cover is the same size and shape as the bottom and is attached with a hinge. Most restaurants bring Cataplana to the table in the pan and leave it on the table for presentation. Naturally, my rendition is a bit different than what we enjoyed in Portugal, but the point is to use the freshest seafood you can find. If you like, you can serve this with rice, crusty bread, or, my favorite, a huge salad.

Makes about three quarts (6 servings)

Image of Cataplana
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bulb fresh fennel, quartered, cored, and cut in julienne
½ Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, diced
½ cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)
10-ounce package Melissa’s Heavenly Villaggio Marzano Tomatoes, halved (or 15.5 ounce can drained fire-roasted tomatoes)
6 Melissa’s Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers (2 red, 2 yellow 2 orange) halved, seeded, and cut crosswise in thin slices
½ cup diced roasted, seeded, and peeled green chiles (Hatch, Pasilla, Poblano or whatever heat level and flavor you favor)
½ cup chopped fresh mushrooms (I used shiitakes)
3 tablespoons Melissa’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes
6 cups unsalted Seafood stock
1 ½ pounds large peeled and deveined shrimp (raw)
1 ½ pounds fresh fish cut in 1-inch pieces (cod, salmon, sole, red snapper; I like to use whatever is freshest and today I am using 1-pound Petrale sole and ½ pound Artic char)
Italian parsley, chiffonade
½ cup niçoise olives pitted

In a wok or large Dutch oven, heat pan over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons olive oil.
Image of Fennel Bulbs
Add onion and fennel and sauté until softened but not browned. Add white wine to pan and cook until almost dry, stirring up any browned bits from bottom of pan.
Image of Soup
Add fresh tomatoes, Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers, chiles, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes to pan. Stir- well and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. (At this point, there are only a few minutes left of cooking time.)
Image of Soup with Seafood
Add seafood to pan and simmer for two to 3 minutes or until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through.
Image of Cataplana
Serve immediately garnished with parsley and olives.

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