The Agony and the Ecstasy of Paella
He boiled the water. Seasoned it just so. Scored tomatoes. Set them all in a row.
Rained tears when he peeled the onions. Cut his finger as he diced. Hooray for the finger condom. A nifty rubber device.
He blanched the tomatoes. Set the ice. Into boiling water. He didn’t think twice.
Off the skin came, and he set it aside. Seeds flowed forth in an acidy tide.
Into the pot, everything goes. And, when the heat fires, the tasty scents will blows.
The base of Spanish paella is a sofrito. A mixture of onion and tomato, it cooks down slow. Warms the senses. Seasons the tongue. Smelling the start of it right now, I’m already famished.
Paella is a big dish. Intricate. A simmering strip-tease.
Do we really have to wait until tonight?
True paella comes in two versions: the mountains and the sea. In this article, I include MTM’s sea version. We will have both for Lou’s party, because the lovely Miss TK is allergic to shellfish.
Shellfish Paella in a Clay Casserole
For the sofrito:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 pounds onions, minced
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
For the picada:
2 large garlic cloves, coursely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads or 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
For the rice and shellfish:
16 small live clams, scrubbed
16 small live mussels, scrubbed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds squid, cleaned, bodies cut into rings and tentacles whole
1 1/2 cups short grain rice
4 cups fish stock
16 large shrimp in their shells
1/2 pound large scallops
8 lemon wedges
3/4 cup garlic mayonnaise
To cook the sofrito:
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and saute slowly over low heat, stirring from time to time, until onions are brown and almost caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add small amounts of water if necessary to prevent onions from burning. Add tomatoes and increase heat to medium; cook until dry.
To prepare the picada:
In a food processor, finely grind all ingredients. Set aside.
To prepare the clams and mussels:
In a large pot, bring about 1/2 cup water to boil. Steam clams and mussels on a rack over boiling water until they open, 4 to 5 minutes for mussels and 5 to 10 minutes for clams. Set aside, discarding any that do not open. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Reserve.
To cook rice and shellfish:
Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium skillet, heat oil’ add squid rings and tentacles. Saute for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring. Add sauteed squid and their juices to casserole or skillet with sofrito. Stir in rice and picada.
Measure reserved broth and add enough fish stock to equal 4 1/2 cups. Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add to skillet and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, gently moving rice around so it cooks evenly throughout. Add shrimp and scallops, pushing them down into rice so they are covered with broth.
Transfer skillet to oven and cook another 10 minutes, or until rice is slightly underdone. Remove skillet from oven, and arrange mussels and clams on top. Cover skillet with a cloth and let it sit for 10 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with lemon wedges, and pass the mayo in a sauceboat. Serves 8, but can be adjusted.
Note: This recipe was torn from a magazine years ago, and I have no idea who to credit. All I know is it’s yummy.