Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seafood Paella for New Year's Eve

My father was born and raised in Colombia. Growing up, I always remember paella on New Year's Eve.

Seafood paella, especially, can be expensive to prepare so doing so during Christmas seems to 'fit' for me... and continues the long time family tradition I remember from childhood.

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"Paella is a typical Spanish dish and is traditionally cooked in a "paellera"—a round flat pan with two handles—which is then put on the table. It is normally made using shellfish but can also be made with chicken or rabbit. In many Spanish villages, especially in coastal areas, they use a giant paellera to cook a paella on festival days which is big enough to feed everybody. A paella is very flexible so if you don’t have the exact ingredients or if you find some of them hard to get hold of, substitute them for something similar. Getting fresh shellfish can be a problem, but you can always use frozen fish and use fish stock instead of water to increase the flavor." Catholic Culture

This is the recipe I am using as my base tomorrow. I found live clams (only 2 but they are large) and mussels at the local grocer today. They also had a great deal on already peeled/cooked shrimp. I picked up frozen scallops and canned crabmeat, and whole clams and oysters. I am substituting fish stock (wax boxed like Swanson chicken broth) as my shrimp were already peeled. Perhaps the most important factors in a good paella are the rice and saffron. You cannot substitute for the saffron! The rest is pretty forgiving. Standard long grain American white rice isn't absorbent enough and the sticky Asian varieties don't work well either. A regular short grain rice is the best but I couldn't find any so will substitute a medium grain. I am doubling my recipe because I am borrowing my Anglo mother’s 20” paella pan.

If you have ever overcooked a boxed rice mix such as Rice-a-Roni... that caramelized crunchy part that separates from the bottom of the pan is SUPPOSED to happen with a properly done paella. So many recipes are available and in Spain and South America they vary widely by region. Many excellent paella recipes can be found here: http://www.spain-recipes.com/paellarecipes.html along with links to purchase paella pans, saffron, and more.

Seafood Paella
Serves four (ideal for a 13- or 14-inch paella pan).

This paella is good when served with lemon wedges, but it's even better when spread with a bit of alioli, a garlic mayonnaise that is the Spanish version of the French aioli. To make alioli, add a few cloves of chopped garlic and a large pinch of salt to a mini-food processor (or a mortar), process (or pound with a pestle) until very fine, and then slowly drizzle in olive oil to make a thick, mayonnaise-like consistency. Add lemon juice to taste, and process again.

1/3 lb. shrimp, peeled (reserve the shells for broth)
Pinch of saffron threads
Salt to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 lb. scallops (or calamari, cut in rings)
1/2 onion, grated on the largest holes of a box grater
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ripe tomato, halved and grated on the largest holes of a box grater (discard the skin) (canned/diced just fine)
1 1/2 cups medium grain rice
8 small mussels or clams (1/2 lb.), scrubbed
1 lemon, cut in wedges for garnish

In a medium saucepan, boil 3 1/2 cups of salted water. Add the shrimp shells and simmer, covered, for about 10 min. Strain the broth, and return it to the saucepan. Toast the saffron gently (in a dry skillet or toaster oven), crush the threads with the back of a spoon, and add to the shrimp shell broth. Taste for salt; the broth should be well-seasoned.

In a 14-inch paella pan, heat the oil on high. Meanwhile, pat dry the shrimp and scallops (or calamari). When the oil is hot, sauté the shrimp and scallops until almost cooked through, about 2 min. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Pour out all but 1 Tbs. of oil from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 min. Add the tomato, season with salt, and sauté until the mixture, called the sofrito, has darkened and is a thick purée, 10 to 15 min.

Meanwhile, bring the shrimp shell broth back to a simmer. When the tomato-onion sofrito is ready, add the rice to the pan. Sauté until the rice loses its opaqueness, about 1 min. Increase the heat to medium-high. Pour in 3 cups of the simmering broth (reserving the remaining 1/2 cup) and stir or shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice in the pan. As the liquid comes to a boil, arrange the mussels or clams in the pan, submerging them as much as possible below the level of the liquid. From this point on, do not stir the rice.

Cook the paella on medium-high, rotating and moving the pan over one or two burners to distribute the heat. When the rice begins to appear above the liquid, after 8 to 10 min., reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more. Taste a grain of rice just below the top layer; it should be al dente. (If the rice is not done but all the liquid has been absorbed, sprinkle a bit of hot broth to the pan and cook a few minutes more.) Arrange the shrimp and scallops (or calamari) in the pan.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook gently for another 2 min. to help ensure that the top layer of rice is evenly cooked. With the foil still in place, increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat. The rice may crackle somewhat, but if it starts burning, remove the pan from the heat immediately.

Let the paella rest off the heat, still covered, for 5 min. Sit everyone down at a round or square table. Remove the foil and invite people to eat directly from the pan, starting at the perimeter, working toward the center, and squeezing lemon over their section, if they want.

This post was submitted by Lara in MO for publication here at Catholic Cuisine. Thank you Lara!

I want to add that not only is this an excellent dish for New Year's, it would also be great to make for the feast of St. Raymond of Penafort , which is celebrated on January 7th, and any other saints of Spanish descent.

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  1. Well, I burned the paella but later learned this was because I have a solid surface stove! Paella pans aren't flat like a regular pan. But, if you visit the links above, they DO make a flat bottomed pan specifically created for use on a flat surface stove.
    I would have saved the paella by moving it from the stove top to the oven (HOT at around 400 F) to finish it.

  2. What a great recipe, thanks so much for sharing. Paella is one of my favorite things to try to make!