Food Exploring :: Seafood Paella

Scent can transport you places in magical ways.

When you cook with saffron, let the smells take you from wherever you are and drops you on the beaches of the Mediterranean, letting the breeze wash over you, letting the scents of the vines speak to you as you sip the wines wrung from those very hills.

When you open your eyes, there it is – the fruit of the sea, the rich yellow of the saffron.

At least, that’s how I feel when I pull out my paella pan, my saffron, and the best seafood I can get my hands on and make my family’s seafood paella.

My dad started making this when he and my mom befriended an architect and his educator wife working at my mother’s university. He had emigrated from Spain and while he seemed to be loving life in California for the most part, there were times where he was desperately homesick.

My dad started trying to find ways to make him feel more at home, and discovered paella while researching Spanish and Catalan recipes.

In case you didn’t pick up on it right away, my dad had a huge influence on how I think about food, culture, and people’s sense of place. But anyway…

Not too long afterward, after some practice and some tweaking, we served up paella at the house and invited them over for dinner and a glass of wine.

I still remember his first taste, how it brought tears to his eyes, and how he pronounced it a taste of home.

As with so many things, the recipes I create in my kitchen still contain flavors, scents, and feelings of home and of other places, but they take on a lot of local personality as well. Local ingredients mingle with authentic, different cooking styles mesh, giving you something that has an accent du terroir all its own.

This particular paella recipe started with seafood, but the amount and what kind are pretty open to interpretation. I hit the wharf fish market early to see what they had, and came walking away with langoustines, fresh line caught Indonesian prawns, and diver scallops almost the size of my palm.

Combined with fresh local veggies and Rumi saffron, spicy smoked pimento, and seasoned mussels, this recipe just sings.

I hope it’s worthy of my dad’s version and the local Catalan dish he based it off of – but I know it’s definitely worth making for someone you love. Try it, and savor a little Mediterranean flavor with some Spanish rioja – it’ll warm up your day.

Spanish Seafood Paella

What You’ll Need:

For the langoustine stock:

  • 1/3 lb fresh langoustine
  • 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 4-5 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pepper to taste

Seafood:

  • 1/3 lb shelled shrimp or prawns
  • 1/3 lb diver scallops
  • 1 can mussels

Sofrito and rice:

  • olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp pimenton
  • 1 pepper, diced
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cups rice
  • avocado for garnish
  • Spanish red wine to accompany

Special equipment:

  • Paella pan – or an extremely large flat pan

How to make it:

1. Start with your prep. Shell the shrimp, chop the veggies and onions, crack open the mussels, chop the garlic and shallots.

2. Start by making the broth. You can buy broth or stock for this, but it just doesn’t taste the same if you make a seafood paella with chicken stock! So take those 4-5 cups of water, pour them in a pot, and bring them to a boil. Boil the langoustine in the water for about 4 minutes and then remove them with a slotted spoon. Throw in the shallot, garlic, tomatoes, pepper, and bay leaf, and let the broth simmer for about 20 minutes. Then strain out the veggies and reserve the broth. We’ll use this later.

3. The langoustines are going to be good and done already and my mussels came ready to go, but the rest of the seafood needed prep. You don’t have to pre-cook it before putting it in the paella, but I do just so it doesn’t make the paella too soggy. I put my paella pan on medium heat and sauteed the scallops and shrimp in olive oil until they were done {shrimp were pink and nicely butterflied, scallops were firm to the touch and just starting to go opaque}.

4. Take the scallops and shrimp out of the pan and set them aside. Add some more olive oil and sauce the onion, garlic, pepper, and shallot until the onions are starting to go translucent. Throw in the spices – pimenton, salt, pepper, saffron, oregano – and mix them up until everything is coated.

5. Add two cups of rice just to the sofrito and let them simmer until they absorb the flavoring. Then add your langoustine stock to the mix.

6. Cook until the liquids have boiled down and your rice is cooked and fluffy. This takes about 20 minutes. You may have to add a cup or two of water to get your rice to cook through all the way.

7. Add the langoustines and mussels and mix through the rice. Then turn down the heat from medium to low and press the shrimp and scallops over the top. I made two rings of scallops and a ring of shrimp just for decorative purposes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

8. Remove the paella from the heat and let it rest 5-7 minutes. Garnish with avocado and fresh parsley and serve!

Give it a try, and take yourself and your friends and family on a little Mediterranean culinary journey.

What’s your favorite comfort food from home? What flavors and spices transport you?

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