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Studded with fresh shellfish and cooked in a delicious and flavourful broth, this Seafood Paella recipe will be an instant family favourite. I used a combination of clams, scallops and shrimp but you can customize the seafood depending on personal preference and availability.
Ingredients You Need for the Seafood Paella
- Seafood: I like to use a variety of shellfish to make my seafood paella. This one includes clams, scallops and shrimp. You can substitute lobster, langostine, fish, calamari or mussels. The important thing is to consider the time each seafood takes to cook and when to add them to the pan so they don’t overcook or undercook. Whatever you use, try your best to get the best quality seafood you can find. It will make a big difference in terms of taste and texture.
- Sofrito: A combination of onion, red bell pepper and grated fresh tomato form the aromatic base or sofrito of this seafood paella. If desired, you can make a more elaborate sofrito by also adding green pepper, leeks, and garlic. This recipe just keeps things very simple.
- Saffron: One of the key ingredients in making any kind of paella is saffron. It adds a delicate aroma and flavour, and gives the rice a beautifully vibrant and golden-yellow colour. Not all saffron is created equal or even authentic for that matter. Only purchase it from reputable sources and look for high-quality saffron with vibrant red threads. Avoid saffron with yellow or white parts, as these may be less potent.
- Smoked Spanish Paprika: Adding a touch of smoked Spanish paprika to the paella will help infuse the rice with a distinct flavour and colour.
- Bomba Rice: The absolute best rice for paella is Bomba, also labeled Arroz Bomba, Valencia Rice or Paella Rice. The grains are short and round, with a pearly white colour. It’s ideal for paella because it holds its shape, is starchy and absorbs liquid evenly, resulting in well-cooked and flavourful rice that gets crispy as it dries out.
If you can’t find Bomba rice, you can substitute carnaroli, arborio or a short-grain white rice.
Ingredients You Need for Homemade Seafood Broth
- Shrimp Shells: When making paella, I always try to buy shrimp with the shells on so that I can use them to make a quick and easy homemade broth to cook the rice with. You can also add lobster or crab shells to the broth for even more flavour.
- Aromatics: A combination of carrot, celery, onion and garlic form the aromatic base for the seafood broth.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: It’s not absolutely necessary, but you can gently sauté the shrimp shells and aromatics first before adding the water. It will result in a slightly more flavourful broth, but I’ve also made it by skipping this step and it’s still delicious.
- Fresh Parsley: A handful of fresh parsley, with the stems, will give a beautiful aroma and flavour to your broth.
- Bay Leaves: A couple of bay leaves will help flavour the broth.
- Whole Peppercorns: For a cleaner looking finished product, I like to use whole peppercorns to season the seafood broth.
- Kosher Salt: You can always add more salt at the end so season the broth in stages and taste along the way, adjusting as desired.
Note: This recipe provides a basic seafood broth that can be customized depending on availability and personal preference. Feel free to customize the seafood shells and aromatics you use. For example, you can add fennel, white wine or tomato paste for a richer broth.
Seafood Substitution Ideas
- Shrimp (Gambas): Shrimp is a classic and widely favored seafood choice for paella. They add a sweet and succulent flavor.
- Mussels (Mejillones): Mussels contribute a rich, briny taste and a distinct texture to the dish. They should be thoroughly cleaned and debearded before use.
- Clams (Almejas): Clams bring a mild, sweet flavor to the paella. Like mussels, they should be cleaned well and checked for freshness.
- Squid or Cuttlefish (Calamares or Sepia): Squid or cuttlefish add a unique seafood flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Cleaned and sliced squid or small pieces of cuttlefish work well.
- Crayfish or Lobster: For a more luxurious version, you can include crayfish or lobster. They impart a rich, sweet taste to the paella.
- Scallops (Vieiras): Scallops are a delicate seafood option that can be added for their sweet and tender texture.
- Fish Fillets: Some paella recipes include white fish fillets like hake or cod. These can be cut into chunks and added to the paella for a seafood mix.
Specialty Equipment You Need for Paella
- Paella Pan: Traditional paella pans are made of thin, polished steel or carbon steel. These materials conduct heat well and allow for the coveted “socarrat,” the caramelized crust of rice at the bottom of the pan. They’re also ideal because they are usually wider than regular frying pans, which gives more surface area for the rice to spread out into a thinner layer.
How to Pick The Right Paella Pan
- Traditional Materials: Traditional paella pans are made of thin, polished steel or carbon steel. These materials conduct heat well and allow for the coveted “socarrat,” the caramelized crust of rice at the bottom of the pan.
- Enamel-Coated Pans: Enamel-coated steel or cast iron pans are also popular. They offer the advantage of being easier to maintain since they resist rust and are dishwasher-safe.
- Choose the Right Size: Paella pans come in various sizes, typically measured in inches or centimeters. The size you choose should depend on the number of servings you plan to make. A 12-inch pan should be enough to cook paella for 2 people.
- Wide and Shallow: Traditional paella pans are wide and shallow, allowing the rice to cook evenly and promoting the formation of socarrat. This shape ensures that the rice layer is relatively thin, allowing for even cooking.
- Two Handles: Paella pans usually have two handles on opposite sides for easy handling. Look for sturdy and heat-resistant handles, as the pan can become very hot during cooking.
- Avoid a Single Long Handle: Unlike some other types of pans, paella pans typically don’t have a long handle on one side. This is because the pan is often moved around or shaken during the cooking process, requiring two handles for stability.
- Thin Pans for Socarrat: Thinner pans are better for achieving the socarrat, as they allow the rice to crisp up without burning. Thicker pans may result in less browning.
- Stovetop and Oven Use: Ensure that the paella pan is you purchase is compatible with your specific stovetop.
- Ease of Cleaning: Enamel-coated pans are much easier to clean and maintain. Carbon-steel pans will need to be seasoned after each use.
For the Seafood Broth:
- 8 to 10 jumbo shrimp shells
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- ½ medium yellow onion, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorn
For the Seafood Paella:
- 12 little neck clams, substitute mussels or other variety of clams
- Kosher salt, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 6 sea scallops
- ½ pound 16-20 shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- ½ medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato, coarsely grated
- ½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 cup Bomba rice, substitute arborio, carnaroli or short grain rice
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Parsley leaves, for garnish
For the Seafood Broth:
- Preheat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp shells, carrot, celery, onion and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until the shrimp shells are golden, around 4 minutes. Add 4 cups of water and stir, lifting any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the parsley, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to a steady simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is golden in colour and flavourful, around 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, as desired.
- Pour the broth through a sieve into a large measuring jar. Discard the shells and vegetables. Set the broth aside until ready to use. Leftover broth can be refrigerated in a sealed jar up to 5 days or frozen up to 6 months.
For the Seafood Paella:
- Add the saffron threads to a mortar and pestle and lightly bash them to a powder. Add 3 ice cubes, stir to incorporate, and let the bowl sit at room temperature for the ice to melt, around 15 minutes. This will help extract a more vibrant colour from the saffron. Set aside until ready to use.
- Rinse the clams under running water to remove surface dirt. Add them to a large bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and swirl to dissolve. Transfer the bowl to the fridge and let the clams sit for at least 30 minutes so that they purge some of the sand inside their shells.
- Pat the scallops and shrimp dry with paper towel and lightly season both sides with kosher salt.
- Preheat a paella pan over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the scallops and shrimp and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side. Transfer the scallops and shrimp to a plate, uncooked side-down, cover and set aside.
- If necessary, add more olive oil to the paella pan to reach a total of 2 tablespoons. Add the onion and bell pepper, season with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables have softened, around 8 minutes. Add the grated tomato and cook, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated, around 3 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, around 1 minute.
- Add 2.5 cups of the reserved seafood broth and saffron water. Stir everything to combine and bring the liquid to a steady simmer. Add 1 cup of rice and gently stir to evenly distribute it across the surface of the pan. Nestle the clams into the rice so that the openings face upwards. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, undisturbed, until the clams have opened and the rice is just al dente, around 15 minutes. If you notice the rice is drying out too quickly, lower the heat or add a little bit more broth.
- Nestle the par-cooked scallops and shrimp into the rice, uncooked side-down, and cook until they have warmed through and the rice is al dente and a golden-brown crust (socarrat) has formed on the bottom of the pan, around 3 more minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve with lemon wedges.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.