We ate in pavilions on the sand. Pastries made of cooked and shredded fish and red and green peppers and small nuts like grains of rice. Pastries delicate and flaky and the fish of a richness that was incredible. Prawns fresh from the sea sprinkled with lime juice. They were pink and sweet and there were four bites to a prawn. Of those we ate many. Then we ate paella with fresh sea food, clams in their shells, mussels, crayfish, and small eels. Then we ate even smaller eels alone cooked in oil and as tiny as bean sprouts and curled in all directions and so tender they disappeared in the mouth without chewing. All the time drinking a white wine, cold, light and good at thirty centimos the bottle.
-For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Down the winding narrow cobblestone streets of Barcelona, with bedsheets fluttering out of windows above her head, and across from an old bar where a lady sang in french, my sister was introduced to paella.
And it was here in Spain that she learnt Spaniards (and herself apparently) had no fear of good food, hence her jeans no longer fitting, was introduced to Chupitos (shot bars), and found that four months of backpacking can leave you ‘bathmat deranged’. She emailed me at the time saying, “by the time I get home, I’ll run to the cupboard weeping for bathmats and cuddle each one individually.”
Meanwhile, while making paella, there’s a few things I’ve learnt.
First, when deciding what type of paella to make( there are many variations), take into account that when you have someone who is:
a) allergic to seafood
b) fussy about seafood
seafood paella probably isn’t the best dish to make.
If you do get as gung-ho as I did, you may be reducing these people to eating bread and butter at dinnertime.
The second thing I’ve learnt; when making Spanish food, a large glass of sangria makes your cooking so much better (really!).
Third. prep. prep. prep.
So here we go.
- olive oil
- 10-12 fresh tiger prawns (you need the heads and shells for the stock)
- 1 onion
- 1 fennel bulb
- 4 tsp tomato puree
- 1 big tomato, chopped
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ cup brandy
- a few sprigs of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 onion
- 1 red pepper
- 1 green pepper
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 250g squid
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 400g rice (Bomba or Calasparra--short grain rice)
- 300g mussels
- 300g chorizo (you can add other seafood in its place)
- lemon wedges for serving
- Start with 10-12 fresh tiger prawns.
- Lob off their heads and peel the shells and cook them (the heads and shells) in a good dollop of olive oil in a large stockpot for 2 minutes. The actual prawns get set aside in the fridge for the paella.
- Next add 1 onion and 1 fennel bulb, both sliced n' diced for 10 minutes until caramelised.
- Whip in 4 tsp tomato puree, 1 big fat chopped tomato, 1 tsp smoked paprika and ½ cup brandy.
- Stir it all together, toss in a bunch of thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves and add in 2
- Bring all of this to a boil, then bring down to a simmer, and leave for 45 minutes until reduced to half the amount of liquid.
- Dice 1 onion, 1 red pepper, and 1 green pepper.
- Slice 3 garlic cloves, and set aside 2 bay leaves.
- Clean 250g squid and slice into rings.
- Spoon out 1 tsp paprika and measure out 400g of rice (Bomba or Calasparra is apparently best).
- Have your little saffron packet ready.
- And clean any other seafood. They called for 300g each of mussels and clams, but we added a handful of mussels and chopped chorizo instead.
- When the 45 minutes of stock brewing is done, strain the liquid into a bowl, ready to be used.
- Fire up the stove, add the paella pan and a good drop of olive oil.
- Now, add everything, with 2 minutes in between each item, and stirring each item in. Onion, 2 minutes. Both peppers, 2 minutes. garlic, 2 minutes. Squid, 2 minutes. Bay leaves, 2 minutes. Paprika, 2 minutes. Rice (mix it in well), 2 minutes.
- Add the saffron and most of the stock, bring back to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Now, do. not. stir. This is your first time? Don't worry, you'll probably burn the bottoms for sure. But it'll still taste good.
- After 10 minutes, push in the rest of the seafood into the mixture. Prawns? check. Mussels? check.
- If it's getting too dry, add a little more of the stock, but in 8 minutes, you're finishing cooking paella and it should be a drier dish ( you're not aiming for soup).
- Set aside for 5 minutes with al-foil over, before serving with lemon wedges.
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A paella pan and a rice such as senia, bomba, bahfa, and thaibonnet (short grain rice used because of its low starch and high absorption properties) is required for paella.
cooking photography © Bryton Taylor, Spain photography © M. McShane