My brother and I grew up eating versions of paella made by our German and Japanese parents. Though both would have upset most traditionalists, we loved and always looked forward to them. We used whatever rice we could find, mixed seafood with chicken and sausage, and cooked it mostly in the oven.
I’ve since made quite a few Valencian paellas, and they are stunning, but a bit challenging for a home cook without access to both the outdoors and to uncommon ingredients.
This recipe is what I came up with on a family vacation to Fire Island: we had a grill, a big skillet with a lid, exceptionally fresh squid, my usual kit of Japanese ingredients and spices, and a seafood broth from dinner the night before. I’d also just seen a particularly spectacular sunset and wanted to make something that was equally beautiful.
There is a fine line between honoring tradition and inspiring innovation, and I think this preparation straddles that division well. Take this as a starting point in your cooking adventures, and make sure to share it with your favorite people!
Serves 4, or 6 as an appetizer
6 cups of water -or- seafood stock
1 pound cleaned squid, sliced into rings
1 lemon, halved
3 sweet peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp shio koji (japanese fermented rice, the sugar content aids in forming a nice browned layer on the bottom of the pan)
1 pound (about 2.5 cups) medium grain rice (Bomba is a traditional variety, but I only had Carnaroli and it worked great)
Fresh herbs for garnish (optional, I had chives)
• Bring your stock or water to a a boil in a medium pot, drop to a simmer, and add your spices. The Salvador N19 blend contains fish, shellfish, pimentón, and saffron, so you can use just that if you’re starting from water. Blanch the squid in the boiling stock for 30 seconds, then remove the pieces using a skimmer to a cold bowl and add a few splashes of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, stirring well. Set aside.
• In a 12″ skillet heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat and add the pepper and onion, sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, add the tomato paste and shio koji and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring well. Add the rice and stir to coat all of the grains with the oil and cooked vegetables.
• Add 2/3 of the stock to the rice and give it a good stir to distribute, taste for salinity and adjust as needed, then drop the heat to a simmer and leave it to cook uncovered. Stop stirring or you’ll end up with a risotto texture; the idea is for each grain to plump and absorb the liquid, but not release their starches.
• Once the rice has absorbed all of the liquid (after about 20 minutes) either start your grill on high or get the broiler going in your oven depending on which you’re using. Turn up the heat to medium under your pan, allow the rice to toast for three to four minutes (or until you smell the rice toasting), then add the rest of your stock, pouring it over the rice as evenly as possible. When most of this liquid has been absorbed, drop the heat to low, cover your pan, and start the squid. If you’re missing a lid you can always use aluminum foil.
• Broil the squid briefly under the broiler, or cook on the grill in a seafood basket. Pull a piece after a minute and check the texture. You want it barely cooked or it will become tough and rubbery.
• Serve the paella in the pan with the squid scattered on top, whatever fresh herbs you like, and fresh lemon to squeeze for those who like more acidity. This is most fun to eat together directly from the pan. Make sure to have wine or another refreshing beverage to drink. Also fantastic with a simple side salad and toasted bread rubbed with garlic.
Fun to Try
• You can make the whole preparation on a large enough grill if you want, just set up a high heat zone on one side for the squid and make the paella in a half sheet pan (13″ x 19″) directly on the grill over medium heat. When it’s finished cooking cover it with another sheet pan, inverted, for the final 5 minutes while you cook the squid. And of course you are free to experiment with other seafood toppings if you’re not a squid fan, try shrimp or scallops cooked the same way, clams or mussels simply poached in the stock, or a mix!
• Not a seafood fan? Try this instead – Salt and cook pieces of dark meat or rabbit in the olive oil until browned. Add veggies and sauté until softened (flat beans are traditional but I also like a bit of onion). Add a handful of soaked lima beans, shio koji, tomato purée (fresh or canned depending on the season), pimentón, and a few pinches of Ayala N16. Add water or low sodium chicken stock, saffron, and escargot (optional) and cook until reduced by half. Add your rice and simmer until the rice has absorbed nearly all of the liquid, bring the heat up to medium to form a crust on the bottom. When this is done cover the pan and turn the heat off, allowing it to rest for 5 minutes.
• Ochazuke style – Make dashi (this can be ni-ban) and infuse with Japanese green tea. Gently poach 2 salmon fillets in your stock until firm, then set aside. Sauté the white parts of a bunch of scallions in butter until softened, add shio koji and white miso and cook for a few more seconds, add medium grain rice (the Calrose variety works very well) stir well, then cook as in the recipe above. Top with chopped salmon, nori strips, chopped umeboshi or good quality sumac, and scallion greens. Adjust seasoning with shoyu or citrus if you like. A bit of Japanese mayonnaise is also nice with this dish. Or try a whole grilled squid marinated in shoyu and ginger.
• Taking inspiration from squid cooked in its own ink, and arròs negre – start with whole squid, peel the skins and reserve the ink from the sacs, then chop into small pieces. In a skillet sauté chopped onion and cubanelle peppers in olive oil until soft, then add Cataluña N.22 and optionally tomato paste. Add the squid pieces and fish stock, bring almost to a boil then drop the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add rice, white wine, and the ink, and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed. I love this topped with fresh parsley and grilled shrimp, the contrast is great with the meltingly tender squid. Unlike paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda, and fideua are traditionally served with Allioli, though with this dish I prefer the more assertive and fluffier toum (I like to add a pinch of powdered saffron and/or Cancale N11 when pulverizing the garlic).
Past June Recipes
2018 – Skillet Flatbreads
2017 – Marguerite Cocktail
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue
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