This Spanish staple is a rice dish that originates in the Albufera lagoon just off Spain’s third largest city, Valencia. (It is only around 500km south to Barcelona and is well worth a visit on its own). The name Paella can find its lexical root in Latin and the name itself actually refers to the thin bottomed pan itself rather than the food. It is perhaps one of the very first fusion dishes because it was the Moors who brought over rice and saffron to Spain in the 13th century.
This recipe was shown to me when I studied in Spain and gives you a basic recipe for the seafood version of paella rather than the traditional Valencian version, which surprisingly does not contain any fish but chicken, rabbit and sometimes snails! You can change up some of the seafood choices to suit to your taste and budget. This is a party dish that is both relatively simple and quick. You can get premade fish stock or make your own, but I find the latter always yield better results. Or if you are really pressed for time, just fry off the prawn shells and add the fish stock or cube. This fail-safe recipe is certainly a crowd-pleaser.
Ingredients (Serves 4-6):
For the stock:
1 White Onion (roughly chopped)
1 Stick of Celery (roughly chopped)
1 Teaspoon of Tomato Puree (optional)
1 Glass of white wine
1 Bay Leaf
1 Pinch of Saffron
Prawn heads and shells (from the prawns below)
Fish Bones (from the sea bass below, but this is optional)
For the rice:
350g Bomba Rice
1 White Onion (finely chopped)
1/2 Red Bell Pepper and 1/2 Green Bell Pepper (finely chopped)
2 Large RipeTomatoes (grated)
2 Cloves of Garlic (optional)
500g Mussels (cooked and strained from the stock)
4 Squids (cut in rings)
8 Prawns (or Lobsters if you have someone to impress) – (deshell and devein; keep the shells)
4 Sea Bass Fillets (optional, it so happened I had some in the fridge; debone, keep bones and thick slice the fillets)
1 pack of Runner Beans (approx 300g) cut in three segments length-wise)
You’ll need a Paella dish 35-40 cm for this, or a frying pan of approximate size.
For the stock:
- Clean the mussels by soaking them in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes and remove all barnacles and beards.
- Cook the mussels in high heat with a glass of white wine, lid firmly covered for around 4 minutes or until all the shells have opened.
- Separate the mussels and reserve the cooking liquor for later use.
- In another pot, fry off the onions, celeries, tomato paste until soft and translucent on medium heat for around 7 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to medium high and add prawn heads and shells and bay leaf. Stir and press to extract all the goodness from the head and until the shells are caramelised and the smell pungent. Season with salt.
- Add the white wine to deglaze the pot (i.e. scrap up anything stuck to the bottom of the pot) and let it to reduce until to a third.
- Add the fishbones if any, mussel liquor and maybe some water if necessary.
- Bring to the boil then simmer for around 40 minutes.
- Strain and keep the stock warm.
- Put a few strains of saffron into the warm stock to infuse. (By leaving the saffron in the broth to infuse instead of just putting it in during the cooking of the rice, the finished dish gives off a deeper aroma and also uses a little less saffron, which is an expensive ingredient)
For the rice:
- Heat the pan to medium heat with a glug of good quality olive oil.
- Fry the onions, peppers and garlic until soft and translucent.
- Add the grated tomatoes (should be mostly liquid) and fry until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Push the mixture to a side of the pan and in the same pan, add the beans, squid, prawns and fish with some olive oil to fry them off for a bit of colour and mostly (but not entirely) cooked. This should take a minute or two at most.
- Take the seafood out (but NOT the beans) and keep until needed.
- Add the rice – A little tip I got when I was living in Valencia is that instead of measuring precisely the amount of rice, one just has to scatter the rice in a cross pattern in a right-sized paella dish. This guarantees the right amount of rice and avoids direct heat to a smaller surface area of rice to prevent burning. (Although a little crisp on the edges is fine and is often known as a delicacy called Socarrat)
- Add the warm stock until the brim is full and stir the rice gently to make sure all grains are coated with the stock. Once done, stop stirring. Keep at medium/ medium high heat.
- Arrange the seafood on the top the way you like. Turn off the hob. Leave for 5 to 10 minutes and add lemon and olive oil to taste. (The residue of the heat will cook the seafood to perfection without overcooking.)
Paella is typically enjoyed on a Sunday with family in Spain and thus this recipe makes a good alternative to Sunday roasts, especially in the summer times. I suggest a nice bottle of Albarino to accompany it. Of course, there are many different variations to paella but this recipe should basically the backbone to any authentic paella. If you fancy a meat version, just substitute the fish stock with chicken stock; and substitute the seafood with chicken thighs (thighs are better than breasts as they are more flavourful and are more susceptible to longer cooking time) and pork ribs (or cubed pork belly, skin-off) and leave the meat in with stock while the rice is cooking. Or for the authentic Valencia version, use chicken thighs, half a rabbit (it is in season at the moment!). Or duck. Or eels. Anything you like, but no chorizo!