Thursday, March 6, 2014

Seafood Paella

Let's continue our Spanish Seafood series.  Today's dish is so famous and infamous that it's almost scary to write about.  I am talking about Paella.  There seem to be two extremes when it comes to Paella makers: those who think that Paella can come out of a box and those who think that unless you've got yourself a huge paella pan, wood fire, and bomba rice, it's not the real deal.  But whether or not you meet all the requirements to qualify for an authentic paella in Valencia, you can use the techniques from good paella to make a lovely dish indoors, with a regular skillet, and risotto type rice if bomba is hard to find.  To me what makes a good paella is between a fluffy pilaf and a creamy risotto and it needs that awesome crust underneath that your guests will fight over.  To help keep family peace and harmony, I like to use a pan with the biggest bottom that I have in my kitchen.  The bigger the surface area, the more crust per serving.  Feel free to improvise with seafood and vegetables -- that's what makes paella so fun.

Serves 4

Peel and devein 1 Lb medium shrimp and reserve for use later. Set a medium saucepan with 1 Tbsp olive oil over high heat. When oil shimmers, add the shrimp shells and cook stirring frequently until aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Add 3 cups water and bring to a simmer. Cook gently uncovered for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put 1 Lb mussels in a bowl of cold water and let sit for a minute.  Wash in several changes of water, scrubbing each mussel clean and changing the water until it runs clean.  Add mussels to the pot with shrimp shells, cover, increase heat to high. Check after 2 min and start removing as soon as they open. Don't wait for them all to open.  As some open, take them out and continue cooking the rest.  Cool mussels for 1 min and cover to prevent from drying.
Strain the contents of the pot reserving the liquid and discarding the shrimp shells. Measure 1/4 tsp saffron threads; crumble them, and add to the shrimp stock. Add water as necessary to equal 3 cups.  Salt carefully to taste. Set aside.
Set a large skillet (ideally a 12 inch stainless steel with straight sides) over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add 1 diced yellow onion, 3 finely sliced garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until translucent and golden, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika) and cook stirring until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes, and cook stirring until all the liquid evaporates.
Add 1 and 1/2 cups bomba, arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice and 1/2 Lb diagonally cut green beans (if possible, the flat Spanish variety).  Stir and distribute evenly.
Pour the stock evenly over rice. Don’t stir. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer on high. At the first hint of steam escaping, reduce the heat to med-low (on electric stove might need to move to another burner) and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 18-20 minutes.  While paella is cooking, sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Shell half the mussels.
Arrange the shrimp on top of rice and turn up the heat to medium-high to form the crust. Cover the pan and cook until the crust forms on the bottom and the shrimp are almost pink, 1-2 minutes depending on the skillet and size of shrimp. Check carefully and frequently. If the shrimp are cooked before the crust forms, uncover the pan and turn up the heat. If the crust forms before the shrimp are cooked, lower the heat and keep the pan covered.
When both the crust and shrimp are done, add the mussels with and without shells.  I also like to add roasted artichokes, but that's optional.  Cover the pan and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve.  See that lovely socarrat (the crust).

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