A crusty saffron infused layer of rice and sauteed veggies topped with squid, mussels, and shrimp. That’s what this Spanish Paella is all about! One of the most famous Mediterranean dishes getting thoroughly explored in this post!
I was waiting for this moment for the last 3 years. From the moment we visited Barcelona for our honeymoon in 2013. Oops, so it’s almost 4 years… Time flies. We tried paella in a local restaurant and immediately fell in love. Flavorful rice with a delightful crust on the bottom, fresh right-from-the-ocean mussels, prawns, squid, and other creatures, all washed down with a glass of refreshing white wine Sangria. That’s how heaven looks like to me!
Here is how Spanish paella looked like in the simple restaurant in Barcelona:
Ok, if I loved it so much why the hell I haven’t made it until yesterday? I don’t know. Somehow the timing wasn’t right all the time and there was always an excuse not to make it. There were times we didn’t have enough money for it (seafood is crazy expensive in my country), then we had money but I was too lazy to make it, and a million other excuses like that. But the time has come! Here, in Tenerife, where we are spending our time now, the ocean is at our feet and so is the abundance of seafood. All the stars aligned for me to make an authentic Spanish Seafood Paella!
Now let’s make it clear what Spanish paella is. This dish comes from Valencia, the Spanish town located along the Mediterranean coast. There are many different types of it and the ingredients differ but it’s basically rice mixed with veggies, different types of meat, and spices. Saffron is a must! The original recipe consists of chicken, rabbit, green and white beans, and snails. However, the most globally popular recipe is Spanish seafood paella where the meat is replaced by the ocean’s gifts. You can also bump into mixed paellas where seafood and meat is combined together. Valencians, though, insist that only meat (chicken+rabbit) and seafood versions are authentic.
Spanish Seafood Paella – What I Learned
The things I learned when getting ready and making a recipe. If I would have known all this information before, it would be way easier! Be sure to go through all of them and your chances to succeed will increase.
- Choose a version you like. You can make a Spanish seafood paella two ways. Either cook all the seafood in shells and get a little bit “dirty” when eating it or peel the shrimp and remove mussels / clams from their shells so that you wouldn’t need to use your fingers. The first version is more beautiful and dramatic, while the second one is more comfortable. It’s up to you!
- Get a pan or use a large skillet. Traditionally, Spanish paella is made in a special paella pan. I wanted to get it really bad but my hubby, being a pragmatic man, talked me out of this idea saying that it’s expensive + we would have to bring it back to Lithuania and it’s really clumsy. I hate to admit it but he is right. The good news is paella is easily doable in a simple large flat skillet! A cast iron pan works the best but a non-stick will do too. I used a 12-inch pan for this recipe.
- Distribute the heat. Paella pans are usually large and even if you use a skillet, you need a bigger one. That’s where the problems start. You either need to set a pan on your largest burner or even use two burners at the same time to distribute the heat properly. You also need to move and rotate the skillet all the time so all the sides would cook evenly. Paella pans are designed to make it work while it’s trickier with a simple skillet. Trickier but perfectly doable! If you have a chance, use a cast iron pan because it distributes the heat better.
- Use a proper rice. Yup, there is a special rice for a Spanish paella. It’s called Bomba (Calasparra) and it’s a short-grain variety of rice. Even though I found it easily here in Tenerife (Mrs. obvious) I imagine that it may be a tricky task in other countries. If you won’t be able to get it, the best substitute is risotto rice (arborio).
- Use a stock. While paella can be done with water, it’s more delicious with a stock. The best option is a seafood stock but a chicken stock works too. If you make a seafood paella with shrimp, simmer the shells in salted water and here you have it – a quick and full of flavor stock.
- Socarrat. Soca-what? One of the most signature paella features is a crunchy layer of toasted rice that appears on the bottom of the pan if you do everything right. It does take a little practice but when you eventually get it, you know you’ve mastered a Spanish paella to perfection. The trick is to NOT STIR after adding the stock. Honestly, I can’t say if I got it or not. I mean, the rice was kinda crunchy on the bottom but I can’t say if it was crunchy enough or not. I guess I’ll have to invite a Spaniard next time I am making paella, ha!
I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with all this information, guys. It’s not that difficult! Yesterday I made a Spanish paella for the first time in my life and got it right from the very first attempt (at least I think so). Even if you won’t get that crunchy rice layer it will still be heavenly. I promise. The combination of onion, garlic, tomato, paprika, and saffron-flavored rice combined with shrimp, squid, and mussels just can’t taste bad!
Serve your paella with some aioli (a sauce made of garlic and olive oil similar to mayo) and olives. I got the aioli from a local shop here in Tenerife but you can easily make a homemade version using, for example, this recipe.
P.S. Another Spanish cuisine favorite of mine is Pollo Al Ajillo (Garlic Chicken). Check it out!
This Spanish Seafood Paella features a crusty layer of saffron infused rice topped with shrimp, squid, and mussels. One of the best seafood dishes in the world!
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion , finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes , peeled, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- salt , to taste
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (pimentón dulce)
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 4 small cleaned squid , bodies cut into rings, tentacles left whole
- 2 cups paella rice (bomba) or risotto rice (Arborio)
- 3 cups fish or chicken stock , plus more if needed
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 12 jumbo shrimp , peeled, deveined
- 16 mussels scrubbed, debearded
- lemon wedges
In a paella pan or a large skillet (I used a 12-inch non-stick skillet), add the olive oil and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, paprika, and saffron and stir well. Cook until the tomatoes are thickened and reduced (5-7 minutes).
Add the squid and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix the stock and wine and bring to a boil. Pour over the rice and bring to a boil once again. Add more salt, if needed. Spread the rice out evenly in the skillet and from now on don't stir it anymore.
Cook over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes. Move and rotate the pan so that the rice cooks evenly. After about 15 minutes, lay the shrimp on top. Cook until they have become pink on both sides. If the rice looks to dry, add more boiling stock.
Turn off the heat and cover the skillet with foil. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, steam the mussels by adding a cup of water and mussels in a pot. Cover and when they open, they are done. Throw away any mussels that have not opened.
Finally, remove the foil and arrange the mussels and lemon wedges on top. Serve with aioli sauce and some olives. Enjoy!
Adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden. I highly recommend this book if you want to explore Spanish cuisine.
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