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From Memorable recipes to Share with family and friends, by Renée Behnke photo by Angie Norwood Browne

The Cataplana:

Portugal's Copper Specialty


What is this copper pan called the cataplana?   What is the use of a special pan?   What advantage is there in using a cataplana?

The cataplana is the unique invention of the Portuguese.  Portugal has a long coastline and seafood has always been important in the diet of the Portuguese.  It is no surprise that they would invent the perfect vessel, the cataplana, for steaming shellfish.

Cataplana has two meanings: the cataplana is a seafood dish, one that is cooked in the vessel also known as the cataplana. 

The cataplana is a two-part, domed pan made of hammered copper, and, like all copper pots and pans, is lined with tin.  With a rounded bottom similar to that of a wok, the cataplana is best used on the stovetop but can also go in the oven. 


Being rounded, the cataplana may be rocky on today's stovetops.  A wok ring will steady the cataplana during cooking.

Clams and mussels, often accompanied by pieces of pork, such as ham or chorizo, are put in the bottom part of the cataplana. 

A hinged, domed lid of equal size is placed over the bottom pan and the hinges tightened to create a container that does not allow steam to escape. 

The dish is cooked in the cataplana. When it is finished cooking, it is brought to the table, the top removed so the luscious aromas are released.  The domed top stays on the table and becomes the vessel for the mussel and clam shells.

Though the cataplana is an ancient pan, it is modern in its health benefits: less fat is needed when the cataplana is tightly hinged together.

Made of copper, the cataplana must be treated as any copper pan. There must always be food in the pan before it is set over any flame.  The tin lining is easily damaged.  Copper is one of the best conductors of heat and never needs preheating.

 For general information about copper, please read: The Gleam and Glory of Copper: Copper Pots & Copper Pans


Clam and Mussel Cataplana with Chorizo

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 ounces chorizo sausage, cut into ¼-inch diagonal slices
  • 3 ounces thick prosciutto slices, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 can (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ pounds live Manila or other hard-shell clams, rinsed
  • 1 pound live mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro

    Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and prosciutto and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, reserving the oil in the skillet.

    Add the onion, bell peppers, shallot, garlic, and bay leaf to the skillet and sauté over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until tender. Stir in the paprika, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes and stir 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 cup of their liquid and the wine. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in the chorizo and prosciutto.

    To assemble the cataplana, spoon half of the vegetable mixture into a 10-inch cataplana pan or Dutch oven. Scatter the clams and mussels over and top with the remaining vegetables. Close the cataplana cover, or cover the Dutch oven with its lid. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Open the lid and gently stir the mussels and clams to distribute the sauce. Re-close the lid and cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer, until all the shells have opened (discard any clams or mussels that do not open). Discard the bay leaf. Sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

    Serve the cataplana from the pan set in the center of the table, ladling the shellfish and sauce into heated shallow bowls. If you prepared the dish in a Dutch oven, provide empty bowls on the table for discarded shells.

    Makes 6 to 8 servings

    Menu Ideas: Serve this centerpiece entrée with a simple crisp salad such as Bibb Lettuce and Grapefruit Salad (page 52) or Frisée Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts (page 50). You’ll also want good crunchy bread on hand for mopping up the wonderful sauce. When it’s in season, I’ll serve fresh corn on the cob with the cataplana instead of a salad. The cataplana can also be served as a first course.

    Do-Ahead Tips: The vegetable base can be made up to 2 days in advanced, covered, and refrigerated. Assemble and bake the cataplana just before serving.

    "I first encountered cataplana on a buying trip to Portugal in 1996. A cataplana pan is traditionally made of pounded copper, with two rounded halves hinged together like a clam shell. At the table, the top half flips open, revealing the contents while doubling as a receptacle for discarded shells. The pans come in several sizes. A 10-inch pan is ideal for this recipe, though you can also simply cook the cataplana in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven.

    If you’re buying the prosciutto custom-cut at the counter, ask for end pieces that you can trim and dice. Otherwise, ask for the prosciutto to be sliced about 1/4 inch thick, thicker than it is typically cut.

    Reprinted with permission from ©Renée Behnke, Memorable Recipes to Share with Family and Friends, by Renée Behnke with Cynthia Nims, published by Andrews McMeel click for book review





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