Sunday, 10 July 2011

Paella - how to make use of great seafood

It's seafood season - the mussels and clams are excellent right now and so we made use of some of them this week.

For two people you are going to need:

About half to three quarters of a pound of mixed mussels and clams (see below for preparation)
8 prawns
About two thumbs' worth of chorizo (chopped)
Some bits of cooked chicken
Onion (finely chopped)
Bell pepper - any colour you like (finely chopped)
A pinch of saffron
Olive oil and cooking oil (about a tablespoon altogether)
A couple of tomatoes (chopped)
250g (6oz) of paella rice (or any other kind except basmati really)
A good glug of white wine
Half a pint of chicken stock
Lots more water
Chopped flat-leaved parsley
Some lemon wedges for garnish

A big, heavy-based frying pan & a large pan with a lid.

Mise en place
Start by doing all your preparation. Trust me, it'll make life easier. Chefs call it 'mise on place' but don't let that put you off.  Having everything handy makes for a better dish because you don't stress out midway.

Chop up your onions and peppers and tomatoes and parsley first. Put your lidded pan on the stove with a glug of white wine and a small amount of chopped onion and some chopped parsley and a bit of cooking oil in it.  Put the frying pan on a bigger stove-ring and add the oils.

Prepare your prawns: take the heads off and peel off the main part of the body skin and legs. You can leave the tail bit on if you want to be cheffy but it doesn't matter. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE SHELLS! See below for what to do with them.

Prepare your clams and mussels. (see below)

When you've chopped and peeled and prepared you can turn on the heat under the frying pan and add the onions and pepper and saffron and tomato. Fry gently until the onions soften. Add the rice and fry for a little longer until it starts to look translucent. At this point you can put the heat on under the other pan. Then you can add the chorizo and the chicken to the frying pan.

Two quick stirs and then add the wine. When it starts to bubble start to add thestock. Put it in a little at a time and stir it all round until it begins to absorb into the rice. Keep adding and, when you run out of stock, add water. Keep it bubbling until the rice is soft and edible. (try a single grain from time to time to check)

Meanwhile, add your prepared clams and mussels to the lidded pan and turn up the heat. About 30 seconds later give the pan a good shake and lift the lid up. The shells should be starting to open. Give it another 30 seconds and try again. Do not cook for more than 2  minutes! Take it off the heat as soon as they're open. Discard any that don't open.
Cooked mussels and clams
Add the peeled prawns and stir the mixture till they start to turn pink. If your rice isn't cooked yet you can add the mussel and clam juice.
Add the prawns

Once the rice is softened, add the cooked clams and mussels to the pan. Stir in the rest of the chopped parsley. Decorate with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Buy live prawns and clams from your fishmonger. If you are sold them in a plastic bag, put a hole in it to ensure an oxygen supply. Keep them as cool as possible on your journey home. As soon as you get home throw them into a large bowl or bucket of water with some salt added and a teaspoon or so of flour.
When you need to prepare them, you don't need to do much to clams other than rinse them and throw out any that aren't closed. Give them a good shake. If any of them remain open when you give them a hard rap with your knuckles, throw them away. Use a sharp knife to scrape off any barnacles from the mussels. The mussels have a furry bit that sticks out from the inner curve of the shell. It's called a beard. Use your knife to pull this away.

As soon as you've scraped and beard-pulled they're ready to use.

Put any peelings and heads into a small pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, a hefty glug of white wine and some water. Boil them for about 10 minutes. Let it cool and then bash the shells up with a potato masher to extract all the flavour. Strain it into a jug and let it cool completely and then freeze it for use later.

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