In February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, chef Jose Artur Cabral and his wife Deolinda Broome 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 life in Portugal working in restaurants.
“Sometimes he had his own restaurants, other times he worked for other restaurants, he says he had no formal training, but at one point he was just pretty good at what he did,” explains Deolinda.
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 are made up of 9 islands, it’s from São Miguel Island, which is the biggest island, and that’s the island that most of the people in this area come from.”
The connection between the Azores and New Bedford dates back to the whaling industry of the 1800s that connected the two ports. The communities have remained connected in part because of their shared love of the sea – and the foods it offers. I asked Cabral if the seafood here was similar to the seafood he grew up cooking in the Azores.
“He says it’s very different, the seafood here from the seafood there, it’s very different. He says that in the Azores, because the oceans are generally colder and saltier, the fish and seafood are different.’
Some of the types of Cabral prepared in the Azores are completely foreign compared to what we see on menus here – for example, Cracas are large scallops that are steamed and then served cold, kind of like cocktail prawns, but taken out of their shells. Other fish are more similar, but not quite the same, such as a type of squid called a pipefish, or species such as largemouth rockfish and wreckfish. But Cabral has learned to embrace New Bedford’s local seafood.
“He says we have very good quality here too, he says the oysters, the crabs, the lobsters, those types of fish, the smallmouths, and he also mentioned the sea bass and the monkfish, which he says is a very good fish here too.” , says Deolinda.
In the Azores, Cabral spent some time teaching people to work with seafood at various cooking schools. So he was excited to share Portuguese techniques when the Fishing Heritage Center in New Bedford contacted him to teach 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 the city of New Bedford locally and to work with those products that have to do with seafood and fish.” And he wants to give it a different flavor that people don’t expect because he adds some of these Portuguese spices and some of these things.”
In particular, Cabral wanted to teach Americans how to cook a popular Portuguese seafood dish called cataplana. On the evening of the class, Brum translated as Cabral cooking in front of the students:
“So it’s the sea bass, grouper and smallnecks catapult. So cataplana is that dish right here. It’s called a catapult.”
Cataplana isn’t just the name of the food—it’s also the name of the dish it’s cooked in—a copper vessel hinged like two clams on one side that opens and closes 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. Broom says she never liked the catapult. But everything changed when she met Cabral.
“Since I met Arthur, I have never cooked a day in my life. I probably shouldn’t say it. But it’s true. From the moment he gets up, he starts cooking and I didn’t even care about that fish much. I love it now.”
Chef José Artur Cabral’s recipe for sea bass, grouper and small neck cataplana
(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 sea bass, boned and cut into small pieces
1 grouper, boned and finely chopped
10-12 small round potatoes, peeled and boiled
1/2 onion per half month
red and green pepper (1/2 each) cut into strips
1 tomato crescent
chopped fresh parsley
chopped fresh coriander
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
Dried peri-peri (a type of hot pepper) to taste
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 bay leaves
water to fill the cataplana to about 3/4 full once all the other ingredients are in the pot
(Elspeth’s note: depending on the size of the pan, this probably means about a liter of water)
Pour everything in order in the cataplan and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. When the seafood and potatoes are cooked, it’s done!