September 14, 2012

Seafood Paella

Our Daring Cooks’ September 2012 hostess was Inma of la Galletika. Inma brought us a taste of Spain and challenged us to make our very own delicious Paella!

I'm pretty comfortable in the kitchen. I don't flinch at long lists of ingredients. I figure I can muddle through most techniques. But one thing still scares me. Rice. Yes, rice. I know, it sounds easy. Two parts liquid to one part rice. Bring to boil. Cover and cook. But then why does my rice so often come out soggy and mushy. Or, even worse, "al dente"?

I'm Indian, which means rice is served with most traditional meals. It should be second nature. But it's not. My mom and mother-in-law make perfect rice. Every time. I call them rice whisperers. They both have these intricate little dances they do over the stove, turning the heat up and down, covering the pot, then uncovering the pot at exactly the right moment, adding drops of water and who knows what other magic. 

Me? I bought a rice cooker.

So when I saw that this month's challenge was paella, I freaked out just a little. I knew I'd figure out the seafood part, even though I've only cooked clams once and calamari, never. But I was terrified that I'd over- or undercook the rice, ruining the entire dish.

And I almost did. When it came time to add the clams, the rice in the center of the skillet was tender and cooked. But along the edges, I could see the uncooked centers in the grains of rice. I improvised. I arranged the clams mostly along the edge, hoping they'd spill their juices onto the uncooked rice. I covered the pan tightly with aluminum foil and added a cover for good measure. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

In the end, the rice was a little burned at the bottom and overcooked in the middle.

But overall, the dish was fantastic. The seafood was tender and tasty. The juices from the clams and shrimp and calamari really flavored the rice, helped along by the saffron and paprika.

Still, I admit it, rice still scares me.

Have everything ready to go before you start to cook. That includes cleaning and prepping the seafood (put it back in the fridge until you're ready to use it).

Saute onion in a paella pan (I used a 12 inch skillet) until it's soft.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, sugar, salt, paprika and saffron.

Stir well and cook until the tomatoes break up and dissolve into the onions.

In the meantime, combine the clam juice (or stock) and wine in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Keep it hot.

When the tomatoes are ready, add the squid to the skillet. Cook for a minute (they won't cook through yet).

Then add the rice and, if you're using them, the peas. Give everything a good stir and make sure the rice is coated.

Pour the hot clam juice over the rice. Add salt. Stir well, making sure the rice is evenly spread over the bottom of the skillet. Don't stir the rice again.

Cook the rice over low heat, uncovered. After about 10 minutes, lay the shrimp on top. 

Continue cooking the rice for another 10 minutes, flipping the shrimp once the bottom are pink.

Finally, lay the clams (or mussels) on top. I arranged mine over the drier areas of the rice.

Tightly cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the clams open. (The drier parts of the rice will cook further in the clam juices).


Seafood Paella

Adapted from a recipe by Epicurious

1 large onion, finely chopped
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste or finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp pimentón dulce (or sweet paprika)
A good pinch of saffron threads
4 cleaned small squid, bodies sliced into 1/4-inch-wide rings
2 cups medium-grain Spanish paella rice or risotto rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli
1 cup peas
3 cups clam juice or fish or chicken stock, plus more if needed
1 cup dry white wine
12 jumbo shrimp in their shells
16 clams, cleaned (or mussels)

1.    Fry the onion in the oil in a 16-inch paella pan until soft, stirring often.

2.    Stir in the garlic, and before it begins to color, add the tomatoes. Add the sugar, salt to taste, pimentón (or paprika), and saffron, stir well, and cook until the tomatoes are reduced to a jammy sauce and the oil is sizzling.

3.    Add the squid and cook, stirring, for a minute or so.

4.    Add the rice and peas and stir well until all the grains are coated. (You can prepare the dish to this point up to an hour in advance.)

5.    In the meantime, bring the clam juice and wine to a boil in a saucepan.

6.    When the tomatoes are ready, pour the mixture over the rice, bring to a boil, and add salt to taste. Stir well and spread the rice out evenly in the pan (do not stir again).

7.    Cook the rice over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, moving the pan around and rotating it so that the rice cooks evenly. Lay the shrimp on top after 10 minutes and turn them when they have become pink on the first side.

8.    Place the clams on top of the rice. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or with aluminum foil. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the clams open and the rice is cooked through. 

Serves 4


  1. Beautiful looking paella! And I feel you, I can do most Daring Cooks challenges, but I CANNOT cook hash browns to save my life. I just can't. Haha.

  2. I think there is a certain expectation when you are Indian and can't cook rice. I have finally mastered it but it is still one thing that will throw me for a loop.

    The paella look delicious! Even with all the seafood :)

  3. Your paella turned out looking so pretty, as for the "burned" parts call that teh socarrat that everyone wants to try to get when cooking paella... Those clams are just begging to be eaten they look so good! Great job!

  4. Your paella looks lovely! We have the same problem with rice here - and I have permanent rice-burn-marks on the bottom of more than one pan to prove it!

  5. Your seafood paella looks delicious! Great job!


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