Seafood Paella (and socarrat)

The first time I had paella, I was hooked. Figuratively, but hooked nonetheless. Yet it’s only been recently that I’ve ever attempted to make the amazing, Spanish dish that literally (OK, not really) takes like five million ingredients. 

Paella originated along Spain’s Mediterranean coast in the Valencia region. The name “paella” is a take on the “paellera,” which is a large, flat, round pan with handles that the dish is traditionally cooked in and eaten from.

I have had the dish cooked a number of different ways but my favorite rendition is always one made with plenty of seafood, specifically shellfish. Yes, even langoustine (like the photo here) … they might look weird, but they’re delicious!

Langoustine, also called Norwegian lobster, hail from Norway. Similar to large crayfish or very small lobster, they’re typically served with their full body and shell intact.

If you Google paella, you’ll find versions that are made with everything from rabbit to sausage to chicken to just about anything and everything else. And from what I understand, different regions incorporate different ingredients based on what is local. So if you have it and love it in one region, you may, or may not, be equally as fond of it somewhere else.

Anyway, back to the first time I made it … it was all-consuming, yes, and I was a bit nervous because I had this amazing flavor memory I wanted to re-create. And for the most part, I did and it turned out fabulously BUT what I wasn’t prepared for was the socarrat forming in the bottom of the pan.

Socarrat is the scorched, crisp crust that the rice forms on the bottom of the pan when cooking paella. In Castilian Spanish it is called “churruscado.”

If I’m being honest here, I admit I burned it a bit. And I thought the socarrat was horrible. BUT, lesson learned … this dish is not to be cooked on high. Repeat. Do not cook this dish on high. I have a tendency to want things to move along faster than they’re meant to (in the kitchen, that is) but paella can not be rushed. It’s like bread rising … it just takes time. And so, take that bit of wisdom with you to your kitchen and give it a whirl. It really is well worth the wait : )

A few notes …

  1. SAFFRON: Yes, it’s expensive. Very. But it is absolutely necessary for paella. Without it, it just isn’t paella. As for the “pinch,” it can be a bit misleading because everyone has different sized fingers, am I right? So while traditionally recipes call for a “pinch” go ahead and plan for a teaspoon : )
  2. BROTH: Yes, you can use seafood broth and or something else but I prefer to use vegetable broth or a combination of vegetable and seafood. 
  3. PAN: If you have a paella pan, great, but if not you can use a large cast iron skillet or stainless if you don’t have one. You might even be able to use a wok depending on its size. We have a rather large one and that’s what I used.
  4. RICE: Traditionally people use Spanish rice, also called arroz redonda. If you can’t find it, use calrose or some other medium grain, but not long grain and not the rice used for risotto or pilaf. Note, calrose tends to not need as much liquid to rescue that at first as you can always add as you go along.
  5. MEAT: Yes, you can (if you must) use chicken and sausage as well, but I like a straight up seafood version because one, I don’t eat poultry or beef or pork, and because two, I just think it’s better : )


PREP TIME: 30 minutes | COOK TIME: 45 minutes

  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 TBS garlic, minced
  • 4 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups rice
  • 5-6 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb large prawns, about 15
  • ½ pound mussels
  • ½ pound clams
  • 8-12 ounces frozen calamari, cooked (breaded is fine)

Warm olive oil and saute onion, peppers and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add paprika and saffron and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine, bay leaf and parsley and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add broth and let mixture settle evenly within the pan. Avoid stirring from here on out to make sure the socarrat forms properly on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat, uncovered. Add the shellfish, calamari and peas and cook for about 5 minutes. Note, if all the broth is absorbed you may need to add a little bit more to ensure everything gets properly cooked. Let the dish stand for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!

On Being a Flexitarian

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