Clams in a Cataplana

Flex your mussels and assault your senses with cataplana, a legendary seafood dish (and cooking vessel) from Portugal.



Cataplana, a Portugese seafood dish, inspired by Toni Pais' recipe.

Photos by Laura Petrilla

While I was preparing my notes for the "Restaurant Legends" in the June issue of Pittsburgh magazine, my mind wandered to the old Baum Vivant restaurant in Shadyside and one memorable meal prepared by chef/owner Toni Pais. He's a world-class chef whose pride in his Portuguese heritage is manifest in the authentic dishes he prepares.

On this occasion, Pais brought to the table what looked like a copper clam shell. He carefully opened the lid, releasing a cloud of fragrant steam redolent of the aromas of the garden and the sea. At the base of the dish was a tomato sauce made bold with onions, garlic, peppers and spicy Portuguese sausage. On top of the sauce were two or three dozen plump and succulent mussels adding their juices to the broth.

mussles
Mussels cataplana recipe.

The magic of this dish, called mussels cataplana, was the combination of distinct yet harmonious flavors. Pais is still making magic at his restaurant Café Zao in the Cultural District.

You can make the dish in any large covered skillet, but there is something dramatic about the presentation in the authentic utensil that heightens the sense of anticipation. You also can use almost any type of spicy sausage to flavor the sauce, but linguica (pronounced lin-GWEE-suh) is the authentic Portuguese cured pork sausage flavored with garlic, onion and paprika. You might as well go all the way.


Chris Fennimore is the director of programming at WQED and the producer/host for QED Cooks. Follow his blog on food and family at wqed.org/tv/cooks/chrischat/.

Hot Reads

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.

The 412

NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

The group behind the station's Sandwich Monday blog series orders the iconic sandwich and writes a review.
Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

The results of the Gawker poll are in: We’re No. 1.
'Yinzer Goosebumps' Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

'Yinzer Goosebumps' Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

The great Benstonium is at again with this set of faux book covers.
The Great Pittsburgh Protractor Mystery

The Great Pittsburgh Protractor Mystery

Hundreds of protractors have been placed throughout the city. No one seems to know why.

Hot Reads

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.