Traditional shellfish paella is a fisherman-style rice dish, prepared in a shallow clay casserole (a 12-inch cassola is perfect). Generally it’s a little soupy and loaded with an assortment of seafood, which we vary according to what is available in the market. Often we cheat, especially when making a half-recipe, and make it in a frying pan with an ovenproof handle. In the recipe it just mentions a casserole to refer to this cooking vessel, whatever you choose.
If you opt for a frying pan, just be certain that the handle is ovenproof!
I cannot stress this enough: before you make this, read the note at the end of the recipe about rice, as it will determine the amount of liquid you need and the cooking time!
Make the sofregit
The first step, making a sofregit, is time-consuming because you must cook the onions and tomatoes slowly. We often make the full recipe for the sofregit and then only make a half-recipe of the paella. We freeze the extra sofregit for use in a speedy paella at a future date.
In a 12-inch frying pan, heat
in a shallow flameproof clay casserole, or in a large skillet. Add
- 2 pounds red onions, minced
and sauté slowly over low heat, stirring from time to time, until onions are brown and almost caramelized; it will take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Garlic Allioli, etc., but keep an eye on the onions so they do not burn!
Add small amounts of water if necessary, so the onions don’t burn. While you’re cooking the onions is a good time to prep the tomatoes, clean seafood, make the
When the onions are looking very well caramelized, add
- 2½ pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
and increase heat to medium. Cook until dry, about 15-20 minutes, possibly longer depending on the liquid content of the tomatoes, especially if you don’t use plum tomatoes. This is the completed sofregit and will be approximately 2 cups in volume. Set it aside.
Make the picada
In a food processor or with a knife and cutting board, finely chop all the ingredients (below), together.
- 2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 2 TBL fresh parsley leaves
- ½ tsp (2 gram) saffron threads
- ¾ tsp salt, or to taste
- ¾ tsp freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
This is called a picada. Set it aside.
Prep the squid, clams and mussels
cutting the bodies into pieces (I dislike rings, but cut them as you wish), and the tentacles can be left whole or cut in two (again, my preference). Set aside.
To prepare the clams and mussels, scrub them.
- 16 small live clams
- 16 small live mussels
In a pot large enough to hold all the clams and mussels, bring
to a boil and steam clams and mussels (in the water or above it on a rack) with a lid on the pot, until they open, 4 to 5 minutes for mussels and 5 to 10 minutes for clams. Remove the ones that have opened and set them aside, letting any uncooperative bivalves cook a bit longer. If any don’t open after enough time, toss those. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer and save it for a subsequent step. Reserve the cooked bivalves for the final step.
Time to cook the paella!
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium skillet, heat
Add squid rings and tentacles. Sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring. Add sautéed squid and their juices to casserole along with the sofregit, picada and
- 1½ cups short-grained rice, such as Valencian or Arborio (see note at end of recipe)
Measure reserved bivalve broth and add
- enough fish stock to total 4½ cups (see note at end of recipe)
Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add to the casserole and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes; gently moving the rice around so it cooks evenly throughout. I don’t bring it to a boil, keeping it just shy of a simmer and I suspect this is why it’s taking more than the recommended 10 minutes in the original recipe. Add
- 16 large prawns in their shells
- ½ pound large scallops
pushing them down into rice so they are covered with broth. Move the casserole to the 350° F oven and cook another 10-15 minutes, or until rice is slightly underdone. Remove casserole from oven, and arrange mussels and clams on top. Cover casserole with a clean dishcloth and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Serve, garnished with
1 lemon, cut into wedges
and a large bowl of Garlic Aiolli
NOTE: This timing has worked moderately well with some short-grained rices while the traditional calasparra rice has required these adjustments: 5 extra minutes on the stovetop, 5-10 extra minutes in the oven and 6 cups of liquid rather than 4½.
From one of my favorite cookbooks ever, The Catalan Country Kitchen by Marimar Torres. Buy a copy for more great recipes!
More information on The Catalan Country Kitchen.