Updated: Jul 1
As we just celebrated a classic American holiday, that being Father's Day, I can't wait to tell you what my church family of St. James Orthodox did for this special day. This holiday falls during one of our fasting periods per the Orthodox calendar and we fast from meat, eggs, and dairy. So, it was a little bit of a challenge to find a dish that would suit everyone and be fast friendly.
Paella was considered an option and after reviewing other dishes, we decided to stick with it. What a great choice because everyone enjoyed the paella and for some parishioners it was their first time trying this amazing dish. Some of the kids didn't know how to eat shellfish and stared at the paella for a while before scooping it onto their plate. Watching them ponder their decision to be adventurous was entertaining for sure.
COOKING OUTDOORS CLASSIC SEAFOOD PAELLA
I've loved paella ever since I had my first forkful, but I can't say I'm loyal to any particular version. I'm just as eager to put my fork into the seafood classic paella stuffed with mussels, clams, and shrimp. It's a crowd pleaser dish, easy and very filling and using local seafood in our Father's Day paella was a huge hit! And my goals for this dish were twofold: First, figure out how to replace the savory depth of protein-based fond, and carefully choose the vegetables that would crown the rice and prepare them in a way that would allow their flavors and textures to shine.
Even though "real" paella is cooked on an open fire in a paella pan, don't worry if you don't have the right pan or an open fire. It's not a big deal. I often use a big flat skillet myself. Remember, it's all about balance and picking fresh food you love!
This is my favorite paella and in fact this seafood version is my second paella blog on my website. Check out my very first that I published in 2020.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN PREPARING PAELLA?
Besides properly cleaning your bivalve right before cooking time, keeping them fresh and alive is another important task. Yes, buying and storing them requires a little bit of care. Keep them on a lot of ice with an open bag so they can breathe. This is a little different from working with shrimp or fish.
Another thing is to get all ingredients ready to go, and be near your cooking station. Remember, cooking outdoors can be a little bit of a challenge.
And to me the most important, the plump, the chewy, sofrito-infused grains are the ultimate foundation for just about any addition - and I can't help but think that Spanish rice farmers had the same idea centuries ago, when they cobbled together paella prototypes from their harvest combining them with whatever bits of meat and vegetables were available.
Making great paella is fundamentally about flavoring the rice, and that along with sofrito and other seasoning - is largely responsible for enriching the cooking liquid (broth) that saturates the grains. Without it, the whole package can taste sweet, vegetal or earthy.
WHAT IS SOFRITO?
It's all About That Base
The rice in protein-based paellas gets its savory flavors from a combination of meaty fond and sofrito, but the meat-free base in my version delivers just as much complexity. It starts with a retooled Spanish sofrito: pepper that's browned, not just sautéed, umami-rich paste instead of fresh tomato; loads of garlic; and onion. Then I mix in smoked paprika; and bright fish stock infused with saffron.
WHAT IS SOCARRAT?
Socarrat, the layer of browned rice and browned sugars and proteins from the cooking liquid at the bottom of paella, benefits from a brief rest before serving. This allows the starch, which is flexible when the rice is hot, to crystallize and become rigid, so the socarrat crisps and easily releases from the pan.
WHAT RICE SHOULD BE USED IN PAELLA?
When I make paella, I use Arborio rice most of thetime. Ideally, I would use Valencia rice(also called Bomba rice), which is a pearly short grain rice from Spain that absorbs three times its volume in water. Unfortunately, this kind of rice isn't available in regular supermarkets in the US, so I often substitute it with Arborio rice.
WHAT VEGGIES CAN BE ADDED TO PAELLA?
There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to vegetable selection, so I asked my friend who just recently came back from Spain, where he took many paella tours and learned in depth the art of cooking paella. He said green beans, lima beans, artichoke hearts, cauliflower, or really any seasonal veggies can be added to this fabulous dish.
FYI, when I made this dish for our church family, I didn't even use all the shrimp, I simply ran out of space. Again, it is learning the art of balancing between the protein and the veggies when making paella. Next time I will be a better planner!
WHAT DO I NEED TO MAKE SEAFOOD PAELLA?
Paella pan - the most important item. Brings top-notch heat distribution and temperature control, preserving the vitamins and nutrients in your paella, perfect for feeding a crowd. I used pan 17&3/4 - inches.
Cook top - or really any grill will do.
Gas tank - yes, don't forget about gas and even extra gas, like my husband did.
Rice - Valencia rice (also called Bomba rice) or Arborio rice.
Seafood - of your choice.
Broth - fish, shrimp, or lobster stock. Homemade is the best as always. Canned clam juice can be used, but this would not be my first choice.
Spices - you have to use Spanish paprika and saffron. Some cooks prefer to use turmeric, but it's not the same!
Mortar and pestle - to grind fresh garlic into a paste.
Olive oil - as always the best possible quality of olive oil. I like this brand and it has been my go to for more than 10 years. Don't be skimpy at the end of the cooking. I love to give the paella a little drizzle of olive oil love.
Fresh herbs - parsley, oregano, rosemary, chives.
Let's do it...
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Serves: 25 people
Ingredients for paella:
2 large onions chopped
9 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons of saffron (some I dissolved in fish broth and also added a pinch along with paprika)
1 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper, freshly ground to taste
3 pound mussels
5 dozens littleneck clams
1 pound shrimp
20 cups of stock (I used a homemade fish and shrimp stocks)
Parsley and rosemary for garnish
First wash and clean your bivalve by using a brush and cold running water. Make sure your mussels are free from beards.
To make a sofrito, heat olive oil in a skillet (paella pan) over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add pepper and onions into the pan. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic with salt until it is of paste consistency.
Add garlic mixture to the sofrito, as well as the paprika and saffron. Cook for a few minutes and then add the tomato paste. Stir all together. At this point you should see a beautiful color of deep red sofrito.
In the middle of the pan start adding rice in one row. Now, add stock on both sides of the rice. Let everything naturally distribute. Then slightly move rice around but without too much disruption.
Let it simmer on very low heat, for about 10 minutes or so. Keep a watch on it because the timing depends on the temperature of your stock.
Start adding the seafood. Begin with the clams first, and then 5 minutes later, add the shrimp. Make sure all the seafood is immersed, so they can cook properly and avoid any seafood from sitting on top. Add your herbs.
Taste for seasoning. The rice should be al dente at this point.
Drizzle with some olive oil before serving. Let paella sit for a few minutes before serving and allow the seafood juices to be absorbed by rice and socarrat time to accumulate at the bottom of the pan.
Rice should be cooked no more than 18 minutes;this is the general rule of paella rice. So from the moment you add rice to the moment you turn off the heat should be 18 minutes, but it is possible to take a little longer if you are making for a large group, which was my case.