Not too long after arriving home from Spain, I tried my hand at making Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera). Taste memory is a very powerful asset in the kitchen and I wanted to take full advantage of it while the flavors of Valencia were still fresh in my mind. I also wanted to use the saffron and rice that I picked up at the Mercado Central while they were at their absolute best.
I turned to Saveur magazine, an authority on authentic recipes, to guide me through the homemade paella process. According to the recipe developers, there are six principles to achieving really fabulous paella. The ones I found most important were steeping the saffron at the very beginning and sautéing the seafood in hot oil to build a strong flavor base. “The key is to build flavors from the bottom of the pan up,” the editors emphasized. Paella pans are designed for this purpose, though a wide skillet of the same size will work, too.
The seafood used in this recipe was provided by I Love Blue Sea, a web-based sustainable seafood company in San Francisco. The Gulf shrimp were caught using turtle-free nets, the squid came from the Northern California coast, and the clams were a combination of Littleneck and Manila. The original recipe called for monkfish, but I decided to eliminate it from the recipe after learning that it is overfished and caught using bottom trawling, which decimates the ocean floor. Try as I might to keep abreast on the dos and don’ts of sustainable seafood, I can’t always remember everything I read. I was thankful to have a trusty consultant in I Love Blue Sea to point me in the most eco-friendly direction.
My homemade Fisherman’s Paella turned out as pretty and tasty as I had hoped. The rice was cooked perfectly al dente, while the seafood was sublime. Best of all, I was able to achieve the subtle flavors that made the paella in Valencia so special. I have just enough rice and saffron to prepare the recipe two more times. I will have to space out the occasions carefully to fill the interval until my next visit to Spain.
- 25 threads saffron, crushed (a heaping 1⁄4 tsp.)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 lbs. extra-large head-on shrimp in the shell
- 1 lb. cuttlefish or small squid, cleaned and cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 4 medium tomatoes, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 1 small onion, minced
- 7 cups chicken broth
- 2 1⁄2 cups short-grain rice, preferably Valencia or bomba
- 2 lbs. small clams, cleaned
Put saffron and 1⁄4 cup hot water in a small bowl; let sit for 15 minutes.
Heat oil in a 16″–18″ paella pan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, lightly salt, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside.
Add cuttlefish, paprika, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and onions to pan and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Add reserved saffron mixture and broth, season with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Sprinkle in rice, distribute evenly with a spoon, and cook, without stirring, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, 10–12 minutes. (If your pan is larger than the burner, rotate it every two minutes so different parts are over the heat and the rice cooks evenly.)
Reduce heat to low, add reserved shrimp, and nestle in clams hinge side down; cook, without stirring, until clams have opened and rice has absorbed the liquid and is al dente, 5–10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.