This past weekend in Southampton was wonderfully warm and sunny, so I thought I’d lure everyone out of the pool with one of our favorite summer meals, seafood paella. In Spain, paella describes a seemingly limitless variety of rice dishes, but here most of the paella we get is a pretty complicated affair that combines chicken, chorizo, ham and shellfish with seasoned rice. It can be delicious, but there’s a lot going on, and it’s easy for the flavors to fall out of balance. This is a lighter and more focused dish, and it’s perfect for warm weather. Short-grain rice flavored with saffron and aromatic vegetables is garnished with a variety of fresh fish and shellfish. All you need is a simple green salad and an ice cold rosé, and you’ve got a delicious and impressive meal.
This recipe features mussels, shrimp and squid, but feel free to improvise: lobster, clams and scallops are also delicious in this dish. The list of ingredients is fairly long, but if you prep everything in advance, I think you’ll find that the cooking is quick and fun –and can be a nice little pre-dinner performance for your guests.
(Serves 8. Photos show a half recipe.)
4 dozen mussels, cleaned
About 6 cups (1.4l) of clam juice
1/4 teaspoon crumbled thread saffron
1 1/2 pounds (700g) firm-fleshed fish, such as monkfish or grouper, skinned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 pounds (700g) squid, cut into bite-sized pieces
About 20 large shrimp (uncooked, in their shells)
About 10 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
8 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
8 small scallions, chopped (including some of the green)
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 fresh medium tomato or 2 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
3 cups (700ml) short-grain rice (Spanish Calasparra or Bomba, or Arborio)
1. Preheat the oven to 450F or light an outdoor grill (if using). (If this is your first paella, make sure your paella pan fits inside your oven.) Take the seafood out of the fridge and bring to room temperature.
2. Liberally salt the fish, squid and shrimp and let them rest for at least 10 minutes.
3. With a mortar and pestle (or in a blender or mini food processor), mash the parsley, garlic and thyme with two generous pinches of salt. Add the paprika and a little water if necessary and stir to form a paste. Measure and prepare all of the other ingredients.
4. Put half of the mussels in a skillet (with a cover) with about 3/4 cup of water. Cover and bring to a boil, removing the mussels as they open. Remove the meat (use half a shell to scoop it out) and reserve it. Measure and pour the liquid from the skillet into a saucepan and add enough clam juice to make 6 cups in total. Add the saffron and warm the broth over a low flame.
5. Over medium-high heat, warm about 6 tablespoon of the oil in a paella pan at least 18 inches in diameter for about a minute. (If you don’t have such a large pan, split the recipe into two pans or ovenproof skillets before you add the liquid.) Quickly sauté the fish, squid and shrimp (still in their shells) for a couple of minutes each and remove them to a plate. (They won’t be fully cooked.)
6. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the onion, scallions and red peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 6 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the tomato and cook for about 2 minutes more.
7. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in all of the broth and bring to the boil. Boil for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Add the mussel meat, fish and squid and stir in the mixture from the mortar or blender. Taste for salt. Boil for 2-5 minutes more, until the rice is no longer soupy but still appears “wet” on its surface.
9. Quickly arrange the shrimp and uncooked mussels (edges up) on top of the rice and transfer the pan to the oven or grill.
10. Cook, uncovered, for about 12 minutes or until the rice is just on the firm side of el dente. (Don’t worry about browning the rice on the bottom or around the edges of the pan –this is a delicious and highly desirable condition.) Remove the pan to a warm spot and cover with foil for 5-10 minutes, or until the rice is cooked to your taste.
Serve immediately garnished with the remaining chopped parsley and lemon wedges. Soak up the oohs and aahs from the table.