Friday, July 17, 2015

Spanish Seafood Paella...

Spanish food seduces... it captivates with its pure Mediterranean fresh ingredients and simple spices, it lures with its kitchen alchemy of skilfully uncomplicated cookery and tickles your fancy with pleasurable combination of sights, aromas, flavours and textures. Paella is this dish for me, especially with the vision of mouthwatering succulent seafood and shellfish basking on top of soft luscious rice beneath. I was in and out of Spain on an afternoon during my travels in Portugal, and stepping onto Spanish grounds immediately sent a surge of heightened awareness and curiosity-- beautiful people dressed with flair and style, sexy Latin rolling off tongues, a plethora of tempting slick small plates of food abound at a cute courtyard cafe-- the scent of love is in the air... and even if you weren't in love, their culture full of passion and vibrancy will bite you hard before you go on your way.... one that I was once bitten even for a brief moment but in a heartbeat, will go back for another... 

Photo Credit: Jenny Chandler's The Real Taste of Spain

Seafood Paella
Makes 6-8 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
jumbo prawns or langoustines, fresh or frozen, thawed or tiger shrimps or a combination
400g squid, cleaned, diced into  small squares
1 to 2 boneless skinless chicken thigh(s), cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
1/2 to 1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 to 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 lb. short-grain Spanish rice or arborio rice (the same rice you would use to make a risotto)
2 tsp. sweet paprika
large pinch of saffron strands
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 L or 4 cups fish/shellfish stock or chicken stock
1/2 lb. firm fish, cut into pieces, carefully check for bones and remove (halibut, grouper works well)
1 lb. fresh mussels or clams or a combination, see Cook's Note

Cook's NOTE: Rinse and scrub mussels under cold running water. Using your fingers or a paring knife, remove beards (strings that hang from the mussels' shells), and discard. TIP: Any open mussels that do not close when you press their shells a few times are dead, and you should discard them. Choose wisely if you can buy them separately at the store.

Paella Know-How: The right texture can only be achieved using short-grain rice. A large flat pan is crucial to properly cook a paella. As a general rule, just over double the volume of stock to rice-- the rice should be cooked through. If the rice seems firm just add a few tablespoons of stock and simmer for a couple of minutes longer. Do not stir the rice-- the crispy browned crust on the bottom of the pan- the socarrat is gorgeously delicious!

If you don't have a mortar and pestle, pound the saffron strands with the back of a butter knife to powder- a little goes a long way.

Looking at this gorgeous spread of fresh and succulent ingredients makes me happy to no end! I can't tell you how intoxicating the smells of seafood, garlic and saffron was in my kitchen!

 Heat the olive oil in your widest flat pan; add the prawns and fry briefly on both sides until they colour; set aside.

Cook the onions, squid and garlic for a minute; add the chicken. Sauté for two minutes before adding the tomatoes. When the moisture evaporates, add the rice together with the paprika, saffron, salt and pepper.  

Pour in the stock, give everything a last stir and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat, uncovered for 10 minutes. 

Arrange the prawns, mussels/clams and fish all over the top in a single layer if possible. Cover and cook for five minutes on high. Lower the heat to medium and cook for another five to ten minutes until rice is soft (check for tender rice otherwise, if still firm, add a few Tbsp. of stock) and seafood is cooked (mussels should be opened and steaming, fish opaque, and prawns completely coloured). The steaming juices from the shellfish will seep into the rice further flavouring the dish.

Seafood getting ready for the cook-out!

Voila! What a beaute! The seafood aroma is heavenly!

Don't forget to add a bit of that crunchy brown socarrat crust to each plate!

Chow down!

This salad is phenomenal as a side with the paella-- it beams the Mediterranean sun! I love the anise-flavour of fennel-- thinly sliced, intermingled with juicy sweet orange segments, briny salty olives and the slight bitterness of arugula. My mouth delights in a happy dance!!

Fennel and Arugula Salad with Oranges and Olives (by Canadian Living)

Makes 4 servings
2 navel oranges
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives or pimento-stuffed green olives
1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
4 cups baby arugula, baby spinach or a combination of both

Sherry Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp grated orange rind
1 tsp liquid honey
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

In bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, shallot, orange rind, honey, salt and pepper; set aside. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to two hours). Cut off rind and outer membrane of oranges. Working over bowl, cut between membrane and pulp to release segments into bowl, reserving juice for another use. Add olives and fennel. Pour in vinaigrette; toss to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes. Add arugula/spinach; toss to coat.

A Mediterranean feast with seafood paella, fennel orange salad and flatbread speckled with quadrants of tomato paste, chopped green olives, black olives and sundried tomatoes-- all for my twins' third birthday-- the last time I made paella. So-o happy I revived it last night and to relive the addictive Spanish seafood flavours once again!

If you love mussels, try my simple steamed Mussels in White Wine and Garlic; toss whatever fresh herbs you have on hand-- I particularly love aromatic dill!

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