"The greedy man who is fond of his fish stew has no compunction in cutting up the fish according to his need."
Rabindranath Tagore (1916)
Here is one of those ever-prized one-pot dishes that is simple, quick to make and totally delicious. It's essentially a Portuguese 'stew' (the literal translation of caldeirada) but one that, in this form, has been 'goanised', a consequence of the Portuguese colonisation of Goa back in the early 16th century.
At its heart is the essence of the Portuguese recipe - fish and vegetables gently stewed in garlic and wine. But the Goan version I've come to know from Maria Teresa Menezes's "The Essential Goa Cookbook" spices things up slightly by including ginger and green chilli, as well as turmeric, most likely for the cleansing properties desired in the times of little or no refrigeration. The olive oil remains, but in place of the wine (almost certainly nothing to do with it being alcoholic, rather its availability) is vinegar (fine by me!).
Menezes's recipe mentions a selection of candidate fish to use, one of which is 'mullet'. I wouldn't know what the Goans consider to be a mullet but I do know that our native grey mullet makes a superb caldeirada and would definitely be my choice. That said this is a dish I would happily make with other fish whose flesh is somewhere between firm and flaky: gurnard, John Dory, bream, red mullet or, if feeling particularly extravagant, sea bass. The flavourings in the recipe, whilst not delicate, are understated enough as to pose no threat to the flavour of the fish. Using a mixture of fish in the one dish would make a super fish stew.
From what I have discerned, the Portuguese would seemingly serve the fish on a platter surrounded by the veg and dressed with the cooking liquid. But I don't see why it shouldn't be served straight from the cooking dish. Pretty much a meal in itself, if an accompaniment were to be desired, I would be inclined to keep it simple with just some green veg such as steamed kale or green beans. Bread, on the other hand, is as good as essential to mop up the sauce.
The single challenge in making this dish is getting the timing right so that the fish and potatoes are both perfectly cooked at the end of the cooking time. It is for this reason that, unlike any traditional recipes I have found for a caldeirada (Portuguese or Goan!), I par-boil the potatoes at the beginning (and put a little turmeric in the water for that alluring yellow colour that the potatoes take on).
Furthermore, some attention needs to paid to the cooking of the potatoes as different potato varieties behave differently. You want to use a potato that is more on the floury side than the waxy side without being as floury as a King Edward. A Maris Piper is a good choice but my preference while I'm able to get them are Marfona and Sagitta.
The timings given in the recipe are those that suit grey mullet fillets that are 1-2cm thick, and would work for gurnard and John Dory as well. Being slightly more delicate (and likely thinner), fillets of red mullet, bream and bass should require less cooking time so I would suggest perhaps increasing the cooking time of the potatoes by a minute and reducing the 'stewing time' by 2 minutes.
Something to try to avoid is to have too much of the spice mix sitting above the level of the liquid. With only a short cooking time available any unsubmerged spice mix will not cook through and lend an overly raw taste to the finished result if present in excess. It is probably also better to not use extra virgin olive here - its stronger flavour is not a natural partner to ginger and turmeric - a simple olive oil is ideal.
Caldeirada (de Peixe)
Ingredients (Serves 2)
350g grey mullet or other fish fillets (see recipe intro), cut into about 4"x4" pieces
250g potato, peeled and sliced into ½cm rounds
¼ tsp turmeric, plus a couple of pinches extra
200g large tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
175g large onion, thinly sliced into rounds
2 tsp very finely chopped garlic
1 tsp very finely chopped ginger
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
½ tsp salt, or to taste
150ml hot vegetable stock (from a cube is fine)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tsp chopped coriander leaves
Put the potato slices in a saucepan, cover with cold water, add the turmeric and a good dose of salt and bring to the boil. Once at the boil, simmer for 5 mins then drain and run under cold water to arrest the cooking.
While the potatoes are on make the spice mix by combining the garlic, ginger, green chilli, salt and the couple pinches of turmeric. Mix well.
Season the fish fillets with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Lightly grease a (ideally non-stick) shallow casserole or wide sauté pan with a little olive oil. Put a layer of potatoes, tomatoes and onions in the base of the dish, sprinkle with a little of the spice mix then put a layer of the fish on top. Sprinkle again with the spice mix and add more vegetable slices and fish, sprinkling each time with the spice mix, building up the layers. Finish with a layer of the tomatoes and onions. Pour in the stock then drizzle with the vinegar followed by the olive oil.
Cover the pan and place over a medium-high heat until the liquid in the pan comes to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently with the lid on for about 12 mins (check after 10 mins).
Garnish the dish with the chopped coriander and serve straight from the pan.
"The Essential Goa Cookbook", Maria Teresa Menezes (2000), pp. 91: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Cookbook-Maria-Teresa-Menezes/dp/0141000872