Many of my top flavour memories centre around decadent seafood. Whole roasted turbot deftly flicked off the bone and plated up by waiters. Huge, sweet Alaskan king crab legs served with unnecessary melted butter. Freshly shucked native oysters at Bentley’s. Vanilla scented lobster at Petrus. Chargrilled leg of octopus sitting in smoky fishy broth at Dinner. Extraordinary dishes based on incredible ingredients in plush restaurants which have filled my heart and emptied my wallet.
I have even fonder memories though of more rustic seafood in relaxed settings. Those deep fried battered salt cod fillets in Rome. That sadistically hot, fragrant squid curry from an old lady’s food cart on Phuket beach. My mum’s grilled mackerel, slightly overcooked so the belly turns into bubbly, crispy, salty fish crackling. And that incredible paella with indecipherable, bony bits of chicken and various shellfish from that chilled out beach-side restaurant in Majorca.
As it’s primarily a rice dish, contrary to popular belief and countless pics from touristy menus, a paella really doesn’t need everything that ever lived in the sea poking out of the top of it.
The important things are to use the right type of rice (roundish and stubby), get a decent stock and make sure you get that dark and toasty, crusty, crispy bit that sticks to the bottom of the pan – that’s the good stuff. It even has a name – the socarrat. Sounds biblical. The 11th Commandment: thou shalt not useth a non-stick pan lest the socarrat don’t get proper crunchy, innit.
So I sweated onions and garlic, then added the rice and chopped frankfurter (or any kind of sausage that will hold together during cooking) in a heavy pan before seasoning with salt, pepper, saffron and smoked paprika. After that I poured in white wine, tinned cherry tomatoes, lots of fish stock and all the juice from one of those pre-cooked vacuum packed mussels.
I simmered with lid on until all the liquid had been taken up. I placed the mussels on top and squeezed over lemon juice before a final blast over high heat to ensure a good level of socarratisation.
Ingredients: rice, fish stock, mussels, saffron, onions, garlic, smoked paprika, frankfurter, white wine, tinned tomatoes, black pepper, lemon