Fish stew

Fish stew


Steven Joyce

We visitors to Portugal often think of the word cataplana when we think about a Portuguese fish stew, and it is true that when you order ‘cataplana’ from a menu, it often turns out to be a fish stew. But a cataplana is named after the dish it is cooked in, a clam-shaped metal saucepan, often made from hammered copper. Much like a tagine or a tandoori, anything that is cooked in one takes on its name, and that doesn’t have to be fish. A caldeirada, though, is a fish stew, the sort fishermen would make with any fish they had caught that day that were too small to take to market. If you’re lucky enough to own a cataplana, you could cook this stew in it.

I learnt how to make this from Caterina and Sandra at the Lisbon cookery school, Kiss the Cook. They explained that the golden rule of caldeirada is to cook the ingredients in layers and never stir it (they also taught me how to shell prawns (shrimp) without removing the flavour-filled heads).

Caldeirada can be made with any fish or seafood – I added clams to their recipe, and I sometimes cook it with a little paprika, about a teaspoon, added with the wine. Fish stew is often made with sweet potato instead of white, in which case simply swap the two and cook the slices for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until tender.


Quantity Ingredient
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced into half moons
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, halved, ribs and seeds removed, cut into strips
3 large tomatoes, sliced into 5 mm thick rounds
500g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 5 mm- thick slices
2 bay leaves
4 black peppercorns
400ml white wine
12 large, shell-on prawns
300g raw clams in their shells
700g fresh fish, cut into chunks, bones removed
freshly ground black pepper
150g raw squid, cleaned, bodies cut into 5 mm thick slices
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, to serve
Piri piri sauce, to serve (optional)
crusty bread, or toast, to serve


  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan with a lid over a medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for around 5 minutes or until the onions are soft, then add the garlic and green pepper, but do not stir. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Next, layer the tomato slices, potato slices, bay leaves and peppercorns over the onion mixture, and pour over the wine. Again, do not stir. Cover and cook for 12–15 minutes, or until the potato is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, shell the prawns, but leave their heads on: remove the shell and legs from the body, leaving the ring of shell closest to the head intact. Run a sharp knife down the back of the prawn and use the tip to pull up the black vein running all the way along it. Pull out with your fingers and discard.
  3. To prepare the clams, place them in a bowl of cold, salted water to clean off any debris. If any are open, tap them and if they fail to close in the following minute, discard before cooking.
  4. When the potato is cooked, remove the lid and arrange the fish and seafood over the vegetables, tucking the prawns and fish pieces into the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover again and cook for 5 minutes, or just long enough to cook the fish. If the prawns are very meaty, you may need to turn them after 4 minutes or so to ensure they cook through. Add the squid for the last minute of cooking.
  5. Serve in 4 deep bowls, scattered with fresh parsley and a splash of piri piri sauce if you like, with lots of crusty bread or toast for mopping up the broth.
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