For Lane’s birthday dinner last year, it was warm enough that I was in flip flops grilling steak and shrimp. It isn’t quite flip flop weather yet this year, so I stuck to indoor options when deciding what to make. Lane never really requests anything in particular for dinner, so when he mentioned paella, I was all over it. I just wasn’t all over it in time to order any bomba rice, the best kind of rice for paella. We don’t have any stores nearby that sell bomba rice and I didn’t have time to order online and wait for delivery so I used the next best thing, Arborio rice (the kind used for risotto). The Arborio rice worked just fine and made the base for a great paella. My next obstacle was the kiddos- rice, shrimp, and chicken they’ll devour without issue but mussels, I wasn’t so sure about. When I served this, I put one mussel on each of their plates, showed them how to scoop the mussel out of its shell and waited for the reaction shot. O slowly chewed his like he wasn’t sure what to make of it but ultimately gulped it down without complaint. M devoured the one on her plate and then had about five more and was pretty excited when I showed her how to use the empty shell from one mussel to pull another mussel out of its shell. The birthday boy was very happy with his birthday paella dinner, and the kids tried another new food without it becoming a disaster. I declare this paella a win.
This varies from a more traditional paella slightly in that instead of cooking the chicken, shrimp, and mussels in the same pan as the rice while the rice is cooking, they are cooked separately then added in at the end. Doing it this way helps ensure that the chicken and seafood don’t become overcooked and dry which can be a common problem. It also helps the rice cook a little faster, because it doesn’t have any competition in the pan. Saffron, expensive though it may be, is really the best seasoning for this. If you really can’t use saffron due to expense or for other reasons, you could use turmeric and paprika to replicate the color it gives the rice. There really isn’t anything that will provide the same flavor as saffron. Another option is to use Goya’s Sazon with Azafran seasoning (stir a packet into the 1 1/2 cups of water you’ll add to the rice). It isn’t going to be exactly the same as if you’d used the saffron (and it does contain a good amount of sodium so watch the amount of salt in other parts of the dish), but it will still give the rice a good flavor and color.
Chicken, Chorizo, and Seafood Paella
- 4 oz. fresh chorizo, thinly sliced
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 C. Arborio (or bomba) rice
- Pinch of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
- 1 1/2 C. water
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- 1 1/2 C. cooked cubed chicken thighs (or any cooked chicken but dark meat works best)
- 2 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
In a large ovenproof skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until some of the fat is rendered.
Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring for 8 minutes until softened and beginning to brown.
Stir the tomatoes (with juices), rice, saffron with its liquid and the 1 1/2 C. water into the skillet.
Add salt and pepper (use the salt sparingly if you’ve substituted Sazon for the saffron), and bring the mixture to a boil.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook for 15-20 minutes without stirring, until the rice is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed.
Add the olive oil to a large skillet and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet.
Heat the skillet and oil over medium-high heat and season the shrimp with salt and pepper.
Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook, turning once, for about 3 minutes until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
Transfer the shrimp to the rice mixture using a slotted spoon, and discard the cooking oil.
Wipe out the skillet and pour in the wine and lemon juice.
Add the mussels to the skillet, then cover and cook the mussels for 3-4 minutes over high heat, shaking the skillet on the burner, until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that do not open and pour the remaining mussels and the cooking juices over the rice mixture.
Stir the cooked chicken into the rice mixture, then cover and place into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the paella is heated through.
Garnish with the parsley and scallion, and serve hot.
Makes 6 large servings.
Source: adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, July 2008