Whilst living in London, my family were fortunate enough to visit Spain where we ate the famous Spanish dish of paella several times. Keen to recreate the dish when we returned to London, we headed to the Borough Markets where we bought a traditional paella pan and all the ingredients we needed to make our version of the dish.
Now I am not Spanish, and make no claims that this is an authentic or traditional dish. It is just my version of the dish inspired by my trips to Spain, and by the wonderful produce available at the Borough markets, that I sadly no longer have access to.
Ingredients (for a 6 person pan)
1 Spanish onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
6 piquillo or piquante peppers (from jar, drained and chopped) or 1 red capsicum, diced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 1/2 cups Calasperra or Bomba, Spanish paella rice
3 cups (750ml) stock - fish or vegetable
100ml dry white wine (optional)
Seafood & Vegetables
You can use any mix of seafood you like, I used:
12 live clams (pippis, vongole)
12 pot-ready live mussels
1-2 tubes of calamari, cleaned and cut into strips
12 green prawns, peeled and de-vained with tails intact
a handful of green beans (or peas if you prefer)
1 tablespoon pimento (Spanish smoked paprika)
a pinch of saffron threads (1 teaspoon)
2-3 lemons cut into wedges
handful of parsley, chopped
salt flakes & freshly cracked black pepper
- Get all of your ingredients together.
- Prepare your seafood. I buy pot-ready clams and mussels, so they don't need much preparation. I soak the clams in cold salted water for an hour or so, then rinse them just to remove any remaining sand or grit in them. If your mussels aren't pot ready, you will need to scrub them and remove beards. Discard any open mussels that don't close when tapped.
- Blanch the green beans - I put them in a pyrex bowl, boil the kettle, pour boiling water into the bowl and leave for 10 seconds, then I drain the beans and run them under cold water. Blanching the beans just keeps them looking green when you cook them. You don't have to do this step.
- Peel, de-seed and chop the tomatoes.
- Put 1 teaspoon of saffron threads in a small dish and add 1 tablespoon of boiling water or stock, leave to infuse.
- Place the stock in a saucepan and heat gently so it is hot when you add it to the paella pan.
Heat the paella pan and gently sweat the onion and garlic in EVOO for 3-4 minutes.
Add the peppers or capsicum and the tomatoes. Continue to cook slowly for another 3-5 minutes.
Add the paprika and stir.
Turn up the heat.
Add the wine and cook for a minute or so.
Add the warm stock and saffron and bring to the boil.
Add the rice and give it a good stir to make sure it is covered and evenly distributed. This is the last time you will stir the paella so put the spoon away. I usually add the calamari strips now.
Reduce the heat a little and cook the rice uncovered for around 15 minutes, until it is almost tender.
Arrange the clams, mussels, prawns and green beans (or peas) evenly around the paella pan. You can press them down into the rice with the back of a spoon if you wish.
Cover with tin foil or a lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the mussels and clams open up and the rice and prawns are cooked. You can turn the heat up for the last few minutes cooking time to ensure all the liquid is absorbed and a crust forms on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the paella from the heat and let it rest, covered for 5-10 minutes.
Squeeze lemon juice and scatter chopped parsley over the top before serving. The idea is that when you serve the paella, you divide it into 6 'wedges' and each person should receive the same amount of rice and seafood.
Notes & Variations
Other seafood you can include - any firm white fish cut into pieces, cuttlefish in place of calamari, crab claws.
To add more flavour to your fish or vegetable stock, you can fry the prawns shells in a pan until they turn red. Add your stock, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, then strain through a fine sieve into a jug or bowl. Discard the prawn shells. A good tasting stock is vital to make a good-tasting paella.
According to SBS Food, the perfect time to add seafood to paella is when enough of the stock has been absorbed to allow the rice to be seen. A true paella isn't overloaded with seafood so the rice is the main feature, but we love seafood so we up the quantities.
Piquillo peppers are small red peppers grown in northern Spain, that are roasted, peeled, de-seeded and sold in jars. Piquante peppers are from South Africa. They are not traditionally used in paella, but I like them. When you bite into one, they taste sweet, followed by a mild heat. Delicious. Substitute with red bell peppers/capsicum.
If you can't get paella rice, substitute with risotto rice.
Firstly, Australians need to learn to pronounce it correctly. It is not pay-ella, but [paˈeʎa] - the 'l' is pronounced more like a 'y'.
A good paella should have a crust of rice called the socarrat on the bottom of the pan. This can be achieved by cooking the paella over a gas flame or open fire. Traditionally paella is a summer dish, cooked by men in a flat pan set over a charcoal or wood fire, outside. We use a paella pan, and my husband cooks it outside on the BBQ, to ensure good heat under the whole pan. If you don't have a paella pan, use a wide flat frypan. You can also buy special paella gas rings to ensure heat under the whole pan if you have a gas burner.
This is a great dish for entertaining, and although my husband cooks it for me for my birthday or when he's at home on summer holidays, you don't have to save it for special occasions.