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.

seafood paella with Maine lobster

seafood paella with Maine lobster

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.

We’ve been using it since, for lots of things, including some of paella’s many tasty cousins, like pilaf and polow.

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.

assembling the seafood paella

assembling the seafood paella

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
Black pepper
1 cup sweet peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
Sea salt
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.


Tensley syrah cioppino

by Heguiberto on March 25, 2011

Last July when Steven’s parents were here for a couple of days, we took them sightseeing in Sausalito. We got hungry so they took us to an early dinner at Scoma’s, a beautiful seafood food restaurant nestled by the Bay with amazing views of San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. Overall the food at Scoma’s was excellent. Steven ordered the cioppino, that classic fish stew that is de rigueur for any visit here. I think it was the most delicious cioppino that I’ve tried. Everything was super fresh and tasty.

Tensley syrah cioppino

Tensley syrah cioppino

Since I’ve wanted to try this at home. Cioppino is made with a lot of seafood, even if you only get a small morsel of each thing. The idea is that all the fishermen (and fisherwomen?) would get together at the end of the day, share whatever they caught, and make a large stew for all to enjoy. So this requires a party to be practical. Well, I like parties! I made it about a fortnight ago for my newly engaged friends, Jocelyn and Devin, the happily married JT, and my zinfandel-drinking buddy, Chris.

There are thousands of cioppino recipes online. Here’s one, another here, or here.

One thing to consider is what color wine you’re planning to use. Of course, whatever it is, it must be dry. After that the wine can have a huge impact on the appearance (and flavor) of the stew. If you go for red, the sauce will become dark with an almost chocolate color; if you use white, then the dish will be bright tomato red.

I chose red (you guessed that already, right?) Since we were having a big party, what could be better than a bold Tensely syrah right out of magnum? You can’t get bigger than that. The syrah made my sauce look like a Mexican mole, which was unexpected but awesome. We all enjoyed the richness of the look and the flavors.

I prepared the stew in a large pot that I placed directly on the table, nabemono-style. It was an unforgettable evening.

Tensley syrah cioppino

For the sauce:

4 shallots, minced
1 white onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large can tomatoes (28oz)
4 tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp dried basil
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped fine
1 cup clam juice
1½ cups vegetable or fish stock
¾ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp ground black pepper
1½ cups Tensley syrah or similar
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt to taste

For the seafood:

1 lb large shrimp/prawns, tails on, cleaned and deveined
1 to 2 lbs little neck clams (vongole), cleaned
1 lb cooked king crab leg, shells broken up (to facilitate easier eating at table)
1 lb boneless red snapper, cut into chunks
1lb sea scallop

Heat olive oil in a large pot then add onion and shallot. Sauté until translucent. Add garlic, bay leaf, peppers, basil and salt. Continue sautéing until aromatic. Stir in tomato paste followed by wine, clam juice and stock.

Cook uncovered for about 5-10 minutes until alcohol has evaporated and sauce has thickened a bit. Add canned tomato, parsley and simmer covered for about 25 minutes more, stirring every now and then. Sauce will be relatively thick at this point. Adjust flavors with more salt and/or pepper.

Increase temperature to high. Add crab legs and clams. Cover and let them steam in the sauce until clams begin to open. Remove clams to warm bowl. Discard the ones that don’t open. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the shrimp, fish, and scallops. Add them to the pot. Cook for about 4-5 minutes (overcooking will make shrimp and scallops rubbery). Remove from heat. Return clams to pot and serve.

It’s traditional to have this with either sourdough bread or foccacia to sop up all the excellent sauce. Steven prepared a delicious foccacia to pair with the cioppino.


seafood vegetable nabe

by Heguiberto on January 7, 2011

Nabe (sometimes called nabemono) is a brothy soup made with a hodgepodge of vegetables, seafood and meat that is prepared with all of the aforementioned items combined into endless “weirdcombinations.” If you have not tried classic nabes such as Oden, Sukiaki, Shabu-Shabu or Chanko Nabe you are definitely missing out! They are all delicious and perfect for the kind of weather that we’ve been having across the U.S. lately, and in the case of San Francisco, the chilly City by the Bay, I would say anytime of the year.

seafood vegetable nabe

seafood vegetable nabe

serving seafood vegetable nabe

serving seafood vegetable nabe on a dark and chilly night

My neighbor in Brazil, Aidê, is married to a lovely man, Shibahara, who happens to be a native of Japan. From time to time the couple would invite my sister, Tinha, and I for beautiful Japanese inspired dinners at their place. It was such a treat! Aidê took some Japanese cooking classes when she lived there and she became quite accomplished. Her sukiakis were incredible.

I really enjoy this kind of soup: a relatively clear but aromatic broth with lots of exciting things to discover under the surface. I’ve tried my hand at Thai Tom-Yum, and South Indian Rasam. Nabe is superficially similar to these yet completely different in taste and flavor. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll try to make a vegetarian version of a traditional French consomé.

Another thing that all these soup recipes have in common is that they’re relatively labor-intensive, what with all the ingredients and the importance of making a clear broth with a subtle yet distinctly memorable flavor. Nevertheless, you will not be disappointed when you sit down to this hearty delightful dish.

I made this in homage to my friend, Aidê. The recipe itself is adapted from rasamalaysia.

Look here for more about nabe.

seafood vegetable nabe

for Dashi broth:

12 cups water
1 12inch piece of kombu (dried kelp)
1 cup dried smoked bonito flakes

for seafood vegetable nabe:

8 cups dashi broth
1 cup mirin
4 tbsp sake
1 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
8 leaves of Napa cabbage
12 manila clams
4 head-on shrimp
4 sea scallops
1 whole red snapper (about 1½ lbs), cleaned and cut into a few chunks
a small bunch spinach
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 small package fresh enoki mushrooms
1 re-hydrated tremella mushroom quartered (learn more here)
1 lb firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into thin pieces
2 giant Japanese scallions (negi)
1 tbsp butter
Kosher salt
shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper mix)

to prepare Dashi broth:

Place water in a large pot. Add kelp, cover and let it re-hydrate for two hours. Move pot to stove. Bring temperature to high and cook kelp for one minute after water reaches boiling stage. Discard kelp. Turn temperature to low. Add ½ cup of cold water to bring temperature down a bit. Add bonito flakes to broth and simmer for a couple of minutes. When the flakes sink to the bottom of the pan, it is time to remove them. Place a large strainer over a large bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Pour broth through towel and strainer. Discard bonito flakes.

I had some leftover broth, which I froze to make another kind of soup later. I’m thinking soba noodle.

to prepare nabe:

Combine dashi, mirin, shoyu and sake in a large pot or bowl. This is the broth for the nabe. Using another large pot, lay Napa cabbage leaves at the bottom. Interchangeably arrange vegetables and red snapper in the pot. Pour broth over stacked fish and vegetables. Cover and bring to boil. Taste broth and if necessary adjust flavors with more shoyu or salt. Add shrimp, clams, scallops and cook long enough for the clams to open. Remove from heat, add butter and serve. Sprinkle some shichimi togarashi on top. This is delicious!

my bowl of seafood vegetable nabe

my bowl of seafood vegetable nabe

I found this quote about nabemono that really went to the heart of the recipe:

Eating together from a shared pot is considered as an important feature of nabemono; East Asian people believe that eating from one pot makes for closer relationships. The Japanese thus say, Nabe (w)o kakomu (鍋を囲む、”sitting around the pot”), implying that sharing nabemono will create warm relations between the diners who eat together from the shared pot.

We shared this soup with our friend, Juanita. It warmed our bellies, and since our friendship is already warm, I guess then it made it warmer still!

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