Published by Chronicle
This paella celebrates the flavors of Spain’s coasts, mixing both shellfish and fish. Monkfish, with its sublime flavor and firm flesh, is ideal, though any other firm-fleshed white fish will work well. Use what looks best and freshest at the market.
Clams: To purge clams of sand, soak in cool water with 2 pinches of salt for at least 30 minutes.
Cuttlefish or Squid Preparation The sweet, nutty flavor of these chewy cephalopods is crucial to numerous rice dishes. Either can be used, as the flavor and texture are similar. Generally speaking, a cuttlefish-sepia in Spanish, sipia or sepia in Catalan-resembles a large squid. It is meatier, slightly more tender, and a bit more flavorful than squid, and is ideal for cutting into thin strips. It is sold fresh and also frozen as cuttlefish steaks. Squid-calamar in Spanish and Catalan-is equally excellent. Use the tentacles as well as the body tube, which can be cut into strips or rings. When buying fresh squid or cuttlefish, look for whole ones with their heads intact. They need to have a clear, fresh, sea-briny smell. When cleaning, reserve the ink sacs to use in Arròs negre amb allioli (Black Rice with Allioli, page 78). To clean, pull out the head and entrails. Carefully remove the ink sac(s) found beneath the tentacles, and reserve. Trim off the tentacles and reserve, discarding the rest. Remove the hard, clear quill from inside the tube and any innards that remain. Packets of squid ink can be bought at select stores, including Italian and Asian markets.
To Grate Tomatoes:. Simply cut the tomato in half crosswise, and run a finger through the seed cavity, scraping most of the seeds out. Then, cupping the tomato in your hand, slowly grate on a box grater. The skin will gradually peel back as the flesh is grated away, leaving only a flattened skin in your palm. (Discard the skin.) This technique doesn’t waste precious pulp. In winter when good, flavorful fresh tomatoes are hard to find, canned whole tomatoes can be used. Strain them, reserving the liquid (to add later to the cooking sofrito), and finely chop.
Saffron Threads Preparation: Saffron is a defining element of paella. It brings its characteristic warm and fresh aroma, and, significantly, tints the rice a delicate golden color. It is the world’s most expensive spice. Cultivation is a delicate process, collecting is difficult, and it takes some 70,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron. Introduced into Spain around A.D. 900 by Arab traders, it was cultivated in Spain by A.D. 960. (The Spanish word for saffron, azafrán, comes from the Arabic za’faran.) Saffron is largely grown in the central La Mancha region, whose extreme conditions-hot summers, cold winters-are ideal for giving strength to the color and pungency to the aroma. La Mancha is a registered denominación de origen; look for the “D.O. Azafrán de la Mancha” label. Buy only threads and not powder, which may have been adulterated.
To draw out saffron’s full culinary potential, the threads need to be slightly toasted and crumbled before they are added to a rice dish. Toast the threads in a small dry skillet over low heat for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker. Remove them immediately, and then either crumble them in a small piece of paper or pound them in a mortar. If using a mortar, be sure to swirl a bit of water around inside after pounding to get every last bit of saffron dust.
Most restaurants, and many home cooks, use a powdered colorante (usually a mix of cornstarch, salt, and yellow dye) to give their paella the dish’s characteristic golden color. Though eschewed by purists, colorante does not carry a heavy stigma in Spain and its use is not generally looked down upon around most tables. Colorante gives the rice an artificially bright yellow tone. Do not try to make a paella yellower by simply adding more saffron. Too much saffron can give the rice a bitter, almost medicinal flavor. Two pinches of good-quality threads-20 to 30 total-is enough for a paella for 6.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturesavory
- 8 1/3 cups water
- ½ pound small clams, purged of sand (see Notes)
- ½ pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 1 pound monkfish steaks, or 10 ounces grouper fillets, or another firm-fleshed white fish steak or fillet, deboned and broken into pieces
- Freshly ground pepper
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Flour for dredging
- 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-square pieces
- 1 pound cuttlefish or squid, cleaned and cut into 2-by-½-inch pieces (see Notes)
- 18 large raw head-on shrimp with shells
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 4 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or coarsely grated (see Notes)
- ½ teaspoon sweet pimenton
- 2 pinches saffron threads (about 20 total), lightly toasted and ground (see Notes)
- 3 cups short or medium grain rice
In a medium saucepan, bring 5 cups of the water to a boil and add the clams and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered, leaving the clams in the water. (Discard any that do not open.)
Meanwhile, put the mussels in a small sauté pan, add 1/3 cup of the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until all of the mussels have opened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered. Do not drain. (Discard any that do not open.)
Season the fish generously with salt and pepper. In a 16- to 18-inch paella pan, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, dredge the fish, piece by piece, in flour and then cook in batches, turning just once, until golden on the outside and just cooked through in the middle. Transfer to a platter.
Remove any solids left in the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and then prepare the sofrito in the same pan. Add the bell pepper, and cook, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown and become fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Add the cuttlefish and cook until its moisture has been expelled, about another 5 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping anything that sticks to the pan.
Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 2 minutes on each side. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomatoes, and 2 pinches of salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomato has darkened to a deeper shade of red and the sofrito is pasty, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, strain the broth from the clams and reserve it. Discard one shell (the empty one) from each clam, and set aside the rest.
When the sofrito is ready, sprinkle in the pimentón and saffron, letting the flavors meld for a few seconds while stirring constantly.
Add 4 cups of the reserved clam broth plus the remaining 3 cups of water, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Sprinkle in the rice. With a wooden spoon, probe the pan to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Do not stir again. Lay the pieces of fish on top and then the shrimp. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes over high heat.
Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al punto, with just a bite to it.
Remove the paella from the heat, cover with paper towels, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
2006 Jeff Koehler