Paella is one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine from the Valencian region, the food of farm workers – who cooked rice over wood fires, embellished with whatever ingredients they could find.
It is a rice dish that can have meat, fish, seafood or vegetables, infused with saffron to give it a yellow colour and unique flavour.
Soak 4 cups paella rice in water for 20 minutes – this helps the rice cook evenly.
Cook one large lobster in boiling water for two minutes. Do not overcook, but get it off the flame when it turns a nice pink. When cooled, remove the shell and cut the lobster into large chunks. Save the lobster water for later use.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring 5 cups chicken stock to a boil. Add 1/2 tsp saffron and salt. Turn off the heat and let the saffron steep for at least 15 minutes.
In a skillet or cast iron pan, heat 1/2 cup olive oil. Add 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped red bell pepper and cook until the onion is translucent. Stir in 5 cloves of garlic.
Add the rice and cook, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the rice is coated with oil and lightly toasted.
Now add the lobster water. Then add the saffron-steeped stock. Add 1 tsp crushed black pepper, 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cayenne pepper and salt. Add 3 large ripe diced tomatoes. Stir in 1 cup frozen peas or cut string beans.
Bring to a boil and let the liquid reduce, then cover with a lid and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Close the pot and simmer, without stirring for 15 minutes, or until the rice absorbs most of the stock. If the mixture looks dry, pour about 1 cup of hot water over it, but do not stir. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you wish.
Add 2 cups of shrimp, peeled and deveined, pushing these into the rice. Place 1 cup mussels, rinsed and scrubbed and 1 cup littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed – into the rice. At this point, if the rice looks to be too dry, you can carefully add some hot water. Add the cooked lobster chunks. Cover and cook for around 10 minutes longer until the rice and shrimp are both cooked through and the mussels and clams open. Discard any shellfish that remains tightly closed.
As the paella cooks, the rice stays on the bottom and forms a crusty golden bottom layer in the finished dish. This crust of rice is called socarrat and is coveted by true paella lovers. The vegetables rise to the top while cooking.
Slip a spatula under the rice and check to see if you have achieved the elusive golden brown socarrat. If not, set the pan over the heat, uncovered, for a few minutes to lightly brown the bottom.
Garnish with 3 tbs chopped fresh parsley and bring the whole pan to the table for serving.
Note: Spanish bomba rice, a stubby rice that absorbs water well, is the best. You may substitute with Italian Arborio, Carnaroli, Calrose or any short-grain rice.
By Christ & C0.