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I Can See the World Through You Travel, Eat, Write

Passport & Plate - Fish and Seafood Stew (Caldeirada de Peixe)

Portugal | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 2 photos

Serves 6-8 people

500g Thick Salmon Fillets (Skin On)
500g Red Snapper Fillet
200g Sea Bream Fillet
200g another white, fatty fish such as Monk fish or Stingray
15-20 Medium Shrimp
2 Large Squid, cleaned and cut into slices
500g Clams, thoroughly washed
500g Mussels, thoroughly washed
10 Medium Sized Russet Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
250g Chopped Ripe Tomatoes
2 Green and 2 Red Bell Peppers, Thinly Sliced
1 Large Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Bottle of light White Wine, to be added as needed
2-4 Small Dried Chilis (Piri-piri), depending on taste
Olive Oil to Taste
Handful of Fresh Cilantro
Salt and pepper to Taste


How to prepare this recipe
This stew is made by alternating layers of ingredients in one large pot. Because the cooking times of each of the items in pot, it is important to put the ingredients that are a bit heartier, such as the fish and potatoes, towards the bottom, and finishing with the shrimp, mussels and clams on top. This ensures that each ingredient cooks for the right amount of time.

Assemble all the ingredients, each prepared as indicated above. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a large pot, so that it covers the bottom, and begin layering the ingredients. Begin with a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of onions, then tomatoes, peppers, salmon, sea bream and other fish. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top. Begin another layer of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, the rest of the salmon, the other fish, and the sliced squid. Continue with as many more layers as you need to finish these ingredients (should only be 1-2 more layers) and add in the shrimp and mussels on top. Add in half of the fresh cilantro, season again with salt and pepper to taste. Keep the clams aside to add on at the end. Pour the remaining white wine over the entire pot, add in the chillies.

Place the pot on medium heat and bring to a light boil. Then, turn down the heat to medium low until the stew is lightly simmering. Continue simmering until much of the wine has boiled off and the sauce thickens. After 20-25 minutes, add in the clams, the rest of the cilantro and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover and simmer another 5 minutes until most of the clams open up, signalling that they are ready.

Serve immediately with crispy bread on the side to mop up the sauce at the end.


The story behind this recipe
“Now, the secret to make this dish perfect is…” The rest of my mother-in-law’s sentence was drowned out as a wave of guests arrived and I was enveloped in a sea of greeting kisses.

It was two weeks before my husband (Portuguese) and I (American) were set to move to the US after two years living in Portugal. It had suddenly occurred to us that if we wanted home-made Portuguese food from then on, we would have to cook it ourselves. So, I spent many afternoons in the kitchen with my mother-in-law, making complicated dishes using a handful of this, and a spoonful of that, trying to work out the perfect formula. We had invited family over for a meal: 22 guests for two large pots of Caldeirada de Peixe e Marisco.

Thirty minutes and many meticulous steps later, the stew was ready and we brought the steaming pots out to the table, finding space between the already empty wine bottles. We dished out the stew and the family fell uncharacteristically silent for the first few bites before exploding back into conversation.

Caldeirada is one of my favourite meals. It combines fresh fish and seafood with creamy potatoes and tomatoes, all boiled in crisp white wine, resulting in a complex stew that tastes just like the sea.

This recipe is everything that Portugal is to me: family gathering around an elaborate meal; the ocean, a large part of Portuguese identity; wine, an everyday staple, rather than an elite hobby; and loud conversations looping from football to history to politics to food and starting all over again.

And now, when I make this stew, I can hear my mother-in-law, telling me to: be careful! not too much! a bit more! It’s comforting to make this dish. The world immediately seems a little smaller, as if I’m reaching out across the ocean and carrying loved ones into our kitchen as the Caldeirada simmers on the stove.

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