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A Portuguese chef teaches students to cook local seafood

Rob Leonardo/Restaurant Algarve

In February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the U.S., chef José Artur Cabral and his wife Deolinda Brum opened a Portuguese restaurant in New Bedford. I don’t speak Portuguese and Cabral doesn’t speak English, so Brum helped translate our conversation. She says Cabral grew up and spent much of his adult life in Portugal working in restaurants.

"He had his own restaurants at times, other times he worked for other restaurants, he says he doesn’t have any formal training, however he at one point he was just pretty good at what he did," Deolinda explains.

The area of Portugal where Chef Cabral is from is known as the Azores, a volcanic archipelago 850 miles off the coast of mainland Europe.

"So the Azores consists of 9 islands, he’s from the island of São Miguel, which is the biggest island, and that’s the island where most people in this area come from."

The connection between the Azores and New Bedford dates back to the whaling industry of the 1800s, which connected the two ports. The communities have stayed connected in part because of their shared love of the sea — and the foods it offers. I asked Cabral if the seafood here is similar to the seafood he grew up cooking in the Azores.

"He says that it’s very different, the seafood here from the seafood there, it's very different. In the Azores he says, since the oceans tend to be colder and saltier, the fish and the seafood is different."

Some of the species Cabral cooked in the Azores are completely foreign compared to what we see on menus here — for instance Cracas are large barnacles that are steamed and then served cold, sort of like cocktail shrimp, but pried from their shells. Other fish are more similar, but not quite the same, like a type of squid called lulas, or species like large-mouth rockfish and wreckfish. But Cabral has learned to embrace the local seafood of New Bedford.

"He says that here we also have a lot of good quality, he says the oysters, the crab, the lobster, those types of fish, the littlenecks, and he also mentioned the seabass redfish, and monkfish he says is also a very good fish here," Deolinda says.

Rob Leonardo/Restaurant Algarve

In the Azores, Cabral spent time teaching people to work with seafood at various cooking schools. So he was excited to share Portuguese techniques when the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center reached out about teaching a cooking class.

"So when he got the invitation for the class to do the class tonight, it was basically to showcase what we have here in in the city of New Bedford locally and to work with those products you on the seafood and the fish. And he wants to, you know, put a different twist on it that people are not expecting because he's adding some of those Portuguese spices and some of those things."

In particular, Cabral wanted to teach Americans how to cook a popular Portuguese seafood dish called cataplana. On the night of the class, Brum translated as Cabral cooked in front of students:

"So that’s the cataplana of redfish, grouper and littlenecks. So the cataplana is this dish right here. This is called a cataplana."

Cataplana is not just the name of the food — it’s also the name of the dish it’s cooked in — a copper pot hinged like two clamshells on one side that opens and shuts to form a sort of pressure cooker. Traditionally cataplana is made with garlic, onions, red and green peppers, crushed tomatoes, olive oil, and good white wine — along with whatever seafood is available locally. Brum says, she never used to like cataplana. But that all changed when she met Cabral.

"Ever since I met Artur, I never cooked another day in my life. I probably shouldn’t be saying that. But that's true. From the moment that he gets up, he starts cooking and I didn't even care for fish that much. Now I love it."

Chef José Artur Cabral's Recipe for Cataplana of Redfish, Grouper, and Littlenecks

(Elspeth's Note: This dish is traditionally cooked in a copper pan called a cataplana; you can also use a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid.)

1 redfish, boned and cut into small pieces

1 grouper, boned and cut into small pieces

6 littlenecks

10-12 small round potatoes, peeled and par-boiled

1/2 onion in half moons

red and green pepper (1/2 each) cut into strips

1 half moon tomato

chopped fresh parsley

chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Dried peri-peri (a type of hot pepper) to taste

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 glass good dry white wine

2 bay leaves

water to fill the cataplana about 3/4 of the way full, after all the other ingredients are in the pot

(Elspeth Note: depending on your pan size, this probably translates to about a quart of water)

Pour everything in order into the cataplana and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. When the seafood and potatoes are just cooked through, it's ready!

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.