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Seafood Paella

Saying that there is only one way to make paella is like saying there is only one way to make fun of birthers. With that in mind, I’ll offer a recipe below, but feel free to tweak it to your gastronomic urges.

The rhythm of this recipe revolves around a bunch of bowls that save and reserve various items throughout the cooking process, so you’ll need a variety of bowls handy, from small to large.

Note: you might drive your local fishmonger nuts by asking for such small amounts of each shellfish item. Just tell him you are making paella, and hopefully he will understand.

1/2 lb mussels
1/2 lb clams, preferably cockles
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/4 lb scallops
1/4 lb squid, cut in rings
1/2 lb chorizo, sliced
1 lobster tail, cut in half (optional)
1 1/2 cups calisparra or bomba rice (arborio can be substituted)
About 30 strands of saffron
Bay leaf
4 tablespoons tomato paste or crushed tomatoes
1/2 Spanish onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup peas
15 to 20 green olives, pitted and chopped
10 thin slices of roasted bell pepper
3 or 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
Olive oil
1/4 stick of butter
Canola oil
1 bottle dry white wine, preferably pinot blanc

Wash mussels and clams. Pull the beards off the mussels. On medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil in a stock pot until soft. Add half of the garlic. After a minute, pour in half the bottle of wine and deglaze. Add bay leaf. Bring to boil then simmer until liquid is reduced to about half. This broth will be used to stream the clams/mussels.

Meanwhile, wash and dry scallops, squid, shrimp, and lobster tail (if you have it). Toast the remaining half of garlic in olive oil in small sauté pan. Put shrimp and lobster tail in a bowl and pour in toasted garlic and olive oil from sauté pan. Add a dash of white wine, some salt, and toss.

In a large, heavy sauté pan, saute chorizo over medium high heat for two minutes per side. Remove chorizo and pour the chorizo drippings in a cup or prep bowl.

Do not clean out the large sauté pan. Turn up heat to high. Toss scallops with some salt. Add a little canola oil to sauté pan and add scallops. If the pan is hot enough, the scallops will not stick. Saute them for two minutes per side, or until they brown slightly. Remove and place them in a large, covered bowl (hereafter referred to as your “seafood bowl”). If there are burnt bits on the bottom of the pan, deglaze with white wine, scraping bits off, and pour deglazing juice into a medium bowl and save. That’s where the flavor is.

The stock pot should now be ready for the clams and mussels. Add the clams and cover. If you’re feeling like multitasking, add more canola oil to the large sauté pan and add the lobster tail halves and the shrimp, but not the juice in the shrimp bowl. Instead, add the shrimp juice to the bowl of deglazing juice. Sauté until almost cooked through (still a little translucent in the center). Place almost-cooked shrimp (and lobster tail) in bowl with scallops.

Deglaze the pan if necessary, but don’t clean it. The clams should be opening up. If they are all open, take them out with tongs and place them in the seafood bowl (the one with the scallops and shrimp). Add the mussels to the stock pot, and add more water or wine if necessary.

In the large sauté pan over high heat, add some canola oil and the squid. Saute over high heat for about three minutes. Place squid in covered seafood bowl. Deglaze the pan again if necessary.

The mussels should be opening now. Take them out with tongs and place into the seafood bowl. Discard any that did not open. Pour the stock pot broth into the same bowl you used to save the deglazing juice.

Over medium heat, add the tomato paste to the sauté pan. When paste is bubbling, add rice and toast for about 30 seconds, stirring a few times. Add 2 cups of chicken stock, deglaze the pan, and bring to a boil. Add the chorizo drippings, the butter, and some salt and pepper. Reduce to a low simmer. Cover.

Place saffron in a mortar. Crush with pestle until it’s a powder. Pour a little water into mortar, swish around, and pour into the rice. Keep pouring water into the mortar to get all the saffron out. When the rice looks dry, you have a few choices: add some mussel/clam broth-with-deglazing juice. Add some more chicken stock. Add the juice from the bottom of the seafood bowl. Or, if you made pulpo a la gallega recently, add the purple octopus broth. If you run out of all the above, just use some water. Stir gently. Keep it at a low simmer.

After about 15 minutes (about half-way cooked), do not stir up the rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Those crispy bits will form a tasty crust. As long as the heat is not turned up past a simmer, the crust will brown but won’t burn. Feel free to stir the top ¾ of the rice gently. Keep covered.

Add the peas, olives, and roasted pepper strips. Check rice for doneness and for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. When rice is almost done, add the chorizo, the seafood, and any remaining seafood juice from the bottom of the seafood bowl and carefully stir. By now, your sauté pan is probably overflowing with paella. Cook for a few minutes more, covered (if your lid still fits, that is).

Pop open a well-chilled white Rioja and serve. Serves 4 people.

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©2011 Darrin DuFord