Shellfish Paella & Other Spanish Stuff

When I was a junior in college, I was fortunate enough to spend a semester abroad in Madrid and live with a Spanish family who made traditional, classic Spanish dishes like paella on a regular basis. And like your average Spaniards, they ate these meals around 2 or 3 pm so that when I got home from school an hour later, the leftovers would be waiting for me at that perfect post-dining temperaturewhen the food's no longer hot but not cold either and the flavors have had a little extra time to just hang out and get to know each otherand do you know what I would do? Not eat it because I wasfor no real reason apart from being "healthy"a vegetarian. Can you believe that? My Spanish host mom must have thought I was insane to pick at her paella, eat a few bites and say, "Ya comí," before quietly retiring to my room for the afternoon. The saying that youth is wasted on the young is the TRUTH. Times a thousand.

So when my real mom came to visit this past weekend and wanted to make paella, I thought it might be a perfect time to try to redeem myself and to publicly and finally say I'm sorry to my Spanish host-mom for snubbing her beautiful homemade paella with the full-bodied shrimp, the head of which I'm sure was what really scared me appetite-less at the time.

Saveur's version:
Photo: Luca Vignelli
our version:
(Only headless shrimp were available at the grocery store.)

Coincidentally, Saveur did a special feature on The Principles of Paella recently. Because of this, I now know that this step pictured below of steeping the saffron is the "most traditional way of coloring and flavoring paella."
Also coincidental, or perhaps just Spanish synergy at this point, this past weekend marked the opening of Spanish-bullfight-inspired Faena Nueva: New Glazes on New Pots by Adam Silverman at Heath Ceramics. I grabbed myself the middle one below. Sooo coool, right? The show is up through the 25th so if you're in L.A., you should definitely stop by and check it out in person.
OK, back to paella: We were banking on my mom's knowledge for how to debeard the mussels, but she only shouted from the living room: "I don't know how to do that!" We Googled it and as it turns out, it mostly involves just ripping the hairy stuff off and then scrubbing the shells clean.
I don't think I even need to label this as a success. It's pretty apparent, no? Only we did fail to get the nice crust on the bottom--tips on how to do that, anyone?--and it was just a tad on the bland side. Next time, I think I'd like to use a stock of some kind instead of water. Also, adding some chorizo would definitely not hurt, but then of course it wouldn't be Valencian (as this recipe describes itself).
Oh Mom, how will we ever redeem ourselves with the Spaniards when you are pairing their famed dish with diet Coke?

For recipe, click here.


Matthew said...

The paella was great, but I agree -- some crispy rice on the bottom would have taken it to another level.

Mary Anne said...

YUMMMMM..... that looks awesome!! Can't believe it was bland!

And how much saffron did you use in that?? Looks like a ton!

Would bottom crispiness be achieved by jacking the heat up for awhile at the end?

Mary Ann said...

Wow- I just stumbled onto your blog when I was searching for someone who had actually made the Pumpkin-Seed-Crusted Tofu w/ Lemongrass Broth etc. recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit last year.
I love your writing. This is the first time in a long time that I actually want to read a blog. Inspiring. Funny.
Thank you.

p.s. I love your post about the meyer lemon crepe cake. I can't wait to go read more!

Amelia Morris said...

thank you sooooooo much, Mary Ann! so nice of you to say! Almost forgot about that Pumpkin-Seed-Crusted Tofu dish-- that was fantastic. if you make it, let me know how yours turns out!

Mariana said...

nice paella! to get the socarrat (the brown crust at the bottom), i've used a recipe that, after cooking all the ingredients except the rice, cooks the paella in the oven (350º) 15 minutes, until the rice absorbs all the water. then: transfer back to the stovetop and cook on medium-high for 3 minutes.

Amelia Morris said...

gracias, Mariana! for both pieces of knowledge--didn't know it had a name. and now that i have a paella pan, I basically *have* to try it again. :)

sara said...

i'm going to go ahead and say it - i've never had paella. just saying...now that you have a pan and all...

dulci said...

debearding mussels is oddly satisfying - like extracting blackheads.


Kerrilynn said...

Just looking through your blog (which I'm loving) and happened upon the post about Adam's pieces at Heath. He's one of my favorites - and you bought one of my favorite pieces of his! He sent me the pictures but by the time they got to me it seems you had adopted it - hope you're loving it - SO beautiful!
Really enjoying all your posts - so inspiring - want to get into the kitchen right now!

Amelia Morris said...

kerrilynn: thanks for the kind words about the blog! and so sorry I snatched up one of your fave pieces of Adam's... the good news? I happen to know for a fact he has just put out some new/ extremely beautiful pieces at Heath LA. :)