DUBAI: Throughout the centuries, the Portuguese have perfected their Cataplana, a rice-and-meat (usually chicken or seafood) dish.
On a recent Sunday our distinctly Iberian delight was topped with flame-grilled chicken legs over spicy rice, peppers and a dash of parsley.
We’re talking about Nando’s Cataplana. Served in a hand-made copper dish designed like clamshells and washed down with a refreshing Rosa Fresca drink, the Cataplana is a bit like a biryani or a variation of the Italian Risotto.
The taste, though, is distinctly different. This traditional dish – named after the pan it is cooked in (and also known as copper Cataplana) – is designed for those who want a hint of Portugal in their chicken. It comes with the Nando’s signature Peri-Peri sauce, which comes in a choice of lemon, herb mild, hot or extra-hot flavours.
The one we had (with my dining partner and photographer) was the completely resized herb-flavoured Cataplana, served in a circular cork board base, at the restaurant’s Shaikh Zayed Road branch.
Since the original dish was rather huge, Nando’s re-launched it recently by first cutting the portion from 750 grams to a still-hefty 500 grams today. But it’s designed that way, as Nando’s diners are encouraged to share.
“Nando’s is about sharing,” said Sanjeev Thakur, the restaurant chain’s operations manager in the UAE.
While Nando’s is known for its whole chicken, its remade Cataplana comes with boneless chicken thighs – all 270 grams of it.
Thakur said it’s the same Cataplana you’ll get from any of Nando’s hundreds or so branches across the world (270 in Australia alone).
For centuries, Cataplana was the household meal in Portugal. With its rich history, Cataplana has evolved into an informal dining meal with a delightful flavour.
But at Nando’s I noticed that the use of thighs keeps the chicken tender and succulent. And they have given it a fresh twist by adding some of their unique Peri-Peri zest and style.
My platter – a tin-coated copper dish – came with a generous amount of rice, baby marrow, carrots, bell peppers (red, green and yellow) onions and mushrooms.
The preparation also includes turmeric, bay leaves, cloves, whole black cardamom, whole black pepper, red chili and mustard powder.
I was told that the secret behind this dish is in the preparation. Its new version has more tomato sauce, and the chicken, I’m told, is soaked in custom marinades for two hours (Portuguese marinade, sundried tomato marinade, hot, sweet and sticky marinade) before they are shoved into the pan – the chicken is sautéed separately from the vegetables.
It is then served hot with freshly made pilaf rice and garnished with chopped parsley. Then one’s preferred Peri-Peri sauce (available in most supermarkets here) can be added.
At Dh56 per serving, it’s actually a great dining delight that can be shared by up to three (or four, depending on what else is on the table), especially when mixed with the best-selling espitada (a massive stand with a skewer of chicken breast and grilled peppers).
On the whole I am glad I got to try the new Cataplana. In fact, I now have got a new addition to my must-recommend dishes to friends.
Cost: Dh56 per serving (good for two)
Location: Shaikh Zayed Road
Parking: paid parking on weekdays
Location: Saeed Tower 2, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Timing: Sat-Wed noon-12.30am; Thurs-Fri noon-1.30am
Tel: 04-321 2000