The first time I ate homemade paella was at our charming friend, Cesar Rennert’s, beautiful beach house in Remsenburg, on Long Island, NY, many summers ago. He prepared it himself, which was already remarkable, as he much prefers eating out at restaurants. It was simply incredible: so many thrilling and flavorful ingredients, and the final dish, presented family style at table, was so colorful. He taught us how to make paella that very day.
The following year we went on vacation to Spain. Ah, Spain: what a marvelous destination. Actually we didn’t expect much before going. It was David’s idea. Then Steven and I were more fascinated by Italy than anyplace else. But wow! Spain rocks. So much history, gorgeous people, delicious food, and you’re practically swimming in olive oil wherever you go. I like that. As a souvenir, we bought a non-stick paella pan from the gourmet supermarket chain, El Corte Inglés.
Paella is great for a party because it tends to be big, beautiful and impresses a crowd. Do you make paella? What kind? In Spain, there were so many varieties that you could get entire cookbooks devoted to paella, make a new recipe every day and probably be able to cook something different for a whole year.
This lobster paella was a special treat for my niece’s recent California visit. We went to our favorite, Sun Fat, for the freshest seafood. Impulsively, Steven suggested the lobster. I wasn’t so sure, since the whole Dungeness crab slaughter in December, I didn’t think that I was ready for a repeat performance quite yet. But they’re great at Sun Fat, and did the dirty deed for me. I didn’t watch the gruesome spectacle. Instead I selected the rest of the seafood.
This was my first go cooking lobster. I sort of improvised after the Joy of Cooking let me down (they only teach you how to cook it whole), thinking of it as very large shrimp or something. The final dish was really good. This is interactive food. You need to use your hands to really get the most out of it, so perhaps this isn’t for upscale dining.
seafood paella with Maine lobster
2lb fresh lobster, split in half and cleaned
1lb cleaned squid bodies and tentacles, bodies cut into rings
1lb mahi-mahi steak, cut into 1inch cubes
1lb large sea scallops
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
1 cup Thai Jasmine rice, rinsed
1 lb small clams (little neck)
~4 cups (homemade) vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup Spanish green olives, sliced
1 tsp Spanish sweet paprika
1 small container saffron threads (a large pinch)
½ cup dry white wine
Arbequina olive oil
1 cup sweet peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
Wedges of lemon (optional)
Make vegetable broth by boiling water for about 10 minutes with bits of vegetables from your fridge. I used stalks of collard greens and celery, couple of slices of onion, one carrot. Set aside.
Briefly scald red pepper and peas in vegetable broth, set aside.
Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to paella pan along with half of garlic. Sizzle for a minute or so. Add lobster, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, cover pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until lobster shell turns red. Crack claws. Transfer lobster to a platter. Pour excess juice into a bowl.
Return pan to burner. Add a bit more of olive oil to it then the fish. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, cook for a minute or so on each side. The inside will be a bit raw but that’s okay. Transfer to a warm platter. Pour any excesses juices into bowl with lobster juice. Prepare the scallops the same.
Return pan to burner, add a bit of olive oil to pan then squid. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and cook just for a minute, remove from pan as the squid begins to curl. Transfer juices to lobster juice bowl.
Return paella pan to burner, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add saffron and paprika and stir to tint the oil. Add rice, seafood juice and broth to make up to approximately 3½ cups of liquid. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce temp to medium and let it cook until juices are about three fourths absorbed.
Meanwhile heat up one tablespoon olive oil in a small pan, add remaining garlic, salt, black pepper and sauté until aromatic. Add clams. Shake pan so clamshells get covered with olive oil. Add wine, cover and cook on high heat until most clams have opened. Immediately remove from heat. Let rest for few minutes, covered, so the remaining clams will open. If there are any that don’t, discard them. Pour remaining wine/clam juice over rice. Remove and discard the clamshell without any meat in it. Keep meat-filled clamshells warm.
Stir pepper and peas into wet rice. Arrange lobster halves, mahi-mahi cubes, scallops, clams in half shells, squid bodies and tentacles over it. Cover and let it finish cooking for another 5 minutes. Scatter olives over, drizzle with a bit more of olive oil and serve with wedges of lemon.