A seafood paella is truly a labour of love. You might think as I did at first that the key to making a good Paella is having a good recipe and being organized but I would only be telling you part of the truth. After making a Paella I hope you will discover that perhaps the most important factor is that the person making it has an actual love for the process of the dish itself. Now before you start thinking that there is no way you’re going to discover this “love” for the process and cross this dish off your “must try list” I have to confess that when I decided to make a Paella the reason had nothing to do with love or desire it had to do with me thinking the dish looked “pretty”. My first attempt was for one of our New Year’s Eve dinner parties. Since it was meant to be the star attraction of our menu I was feeling the pressure. Pep was his usual calm self in the kitchen taking care of everything else so I could focus on my Paella. I was relieved that the end result was a success but I was also surprised to find out that I wanted to do it again and make it even better. Since that first attempt years ago I’ve read more and more on Paella’s, their history and tips and tricks to try to perfect the holy grail of the dish called the Socarrat.
So to keep it simple all you need to remember is that there are 5 important parts to a Paella dish. They are the paella pan itself, the saffron clam broth, the sofrito, the rice and the socarrat. I have yet to own a true paella pan but we did find an acceptable substitute. As long at the pan is wide and not very deep…you’ll be just fine as a beginner to world of paella. The saffron clam broth is pretty self explanatory but if you don’t have saffron you can just use clam broth or even chicken broth. Now you might be wondering what the hell sofrito and socarrat are. The sofrito is basically a Spanish flavour base that is used for flavouring soups, stews etc. My sofrito is usually onions, garlic and carrots. The socarrat which is probably the best part of the paella and usually the hardest part to achieve is the caramelized crust on the bottom of the pan…my mouth is watering as I’m writing this. The trick is not to burn the bottom but cook it enough so that the rice and sofrito caramelize and become this crunchy tasty treat. Last but not least is the rice. I’ve read that the rice should be a “Bomba” rice which is medium grain. It is hard to find so arborio rice is an acceptable substitute. Long grain I’ve read is a definite no, however, I’ve used it and its fine…although very hard to get a socarrat.
The first time you make it you’ll want to make sure that you have a good understanding of the steps involved and that all of your ingredients are ready to go (this is the organized part). The tricky part is that you have to add the different types of seafood at specific time frames so that when the paella is done – none of the seafood is overcooked or undercooked.
This particular Friday I tried to keep it on the simple side so I only used mussels, shrimp, scallops and a can of clams. I also used the Saffron we recently bought. It is such an interesting spice to me. Saffron is known as the Queen of all spices and considering that it is the most expensive spice by weight in the entire world…I think I would have to agree. Interestingly, this spice comes from the crocus flower, in particular, the saffron crocus. The crocus has four flowers that each produce only three tiny strands of vivid crimson stigmas. Those little delicate stigmas are plucked and then dried. I can’t even imagine how many flowers it took to make all of this Saffron!!
My Seafood. I guess I forgot to include my baby scallops in this picture!
Cook the rice for a bit in your sofrito
Don’t be afraid to get a little artistic when placing your seafood in the pan…
Cover with a clear lid, open a bottle of wine and enjoy while you wait for your masterpiece to be done!
1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads
One 8-oz can of clams
2 small yellow onions finely chopped
1 cup of diced tomatoes and liquid
8 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 cup of carrots finely chopped
1 cup white wine
Paprika or ideally pimenton (smoked paprika)
12 large shrimp, peeled with tail segment left intact and deveined
1 lb. mussels, rinsed well
small container of fresh scallops
1 lemon, cut in wedges
In a small saucepan set over medium to low heat, toast the saffron until fragrant. Crush the saffron as finely as possible. Add the clams (along with the brine) and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately remove from the heat and set aside to infuse.
In a paella pan over medium-low heat, add 1/4 olive oil and fry the onions, carrots and garlic. Stirring occasionally, until the ingredients soften. Next, stir in the rice and mix it together with the onions, carrots and garlic. Make sure the rice is lightly coated with the olive oil so add a bit more if necessary. Continue to stir and cook the rice for about 3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, white wine, clam and saffron infusion, paprika and salt. Add enough chicken broth so that the level of liquid is about …above the layer of rice. Stir to make sure that everything is well mixed. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Spread the rice evenly in the pan. Arrange the mussels in the pan and distribute evenly pushing them into the rice. After another 5 minutes, arrange the shrimp in the pan. Continue simmering until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender but still firm (this is where you get to taste test). They say that the rice should simmer for about 20 minutes more but I let it simmer for about 15 mins and then turn off the heat and just let it sit. Having a cover that is see through is the best because as soon as you see the liquid almost completely absorbed you just turn the heat off and let it do its own magic.
While the paella cooks, lightly season the scallops with salt. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a non stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and cook until nicely browned on both sides and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
When the rice is done, arrange the scallops on top of the paella. Check for any caramelized rice sticking to the pan by using a spoon to feel for resistance on the bottom of the pan. If there is none, increase the heat and carefully cook, moving the pan around, until you hear a good deal of crackling. If you smell burning, immediately remove the pan from the heat.
Arrange the lemon wedges around the pan and serve!
Buon Appetito everyone!