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Mixed Seafood Paella

In Spain, a mixed seafood paella is the one you will find most Spaniards enjoying in summer at restaurants by the sea. It requires firm fish that will not fall apart when cooked (both monkfish and grouper are fine) and a well-flavored cooking liquid enriched with fish trimmings, mussel broth and a mash of garlic, parsley and thyme.

3 dozen small to medium mussels, thoroughly cleaned
About 5 1/2 cups clam juice or fish broth
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
3/4 pound monkfish or other firm-fleshed fish, skin removed and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound grouper or other firm-fleshed fish, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound small cleaned squid with tentacles, cut in 1/2-inch dice and tentacles halved lengthwise
18 large shrimp in their shells
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced parsley
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 small scallions, green portion trimmed, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
3 cups imported Spanish or Arborio short-grain rice

Place 1 1/2 dozen mussels in a skillet with 3/4 cup water. Discard any gaping shells that do not close when tapped. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove the mussels as they open. Reserve the meat and discard the shells. When all the mussels have opened, pour the liquid from the skillet into a large pot and add enough clam juice or fish stock to make 6 cups. Stir in the saffron.

Dry the monkfish, grouper, squid and shrimp well between paper towels. Sprinkle all over with a little salt and let sit 10 minutes at room temperature. In a mortar or mini-processor, mash to a paste the parsley, garlic, thyme and a pinch of salt. Stir in the paprika and a little water if necessary to form a paste.

Keep the broth hot over the lowest heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 6 tablespoons of the oil in a paella pan measuring 17 to 18 inches at its widest point (or in a very shallow casserole of similar size), over 2 burners if necessary. Quickly saute the monkfish, grouper, squid and shrimp (in their shells) 1 to 2 minutes. They should not be fully cooked. Remove the seafood to a warm platter. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the onion, scallions and red peppers and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat, add the tomato and cook about 2 minutes.

Stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in all the hot broth and bring to a gentle boil. Continue to boil for about 3 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally. Add the reserved mussel meat, the mortar mixture and all the reserved fish, except the shrimp. Taste for salt and continue to boil about 2 minutes more, until the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice.

Arrange the shrimp and remaining 1 1/2 dozen uncooked mussels over the rice, with the mussels inserted hinge-down into the rice. Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove to a warm spot (if most of the liquid has not been absorbed, place the pan over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes without stirring), then cover with foil and let sit 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste. Serves 6.

"Paella," by Penelope Casas

Thursday, December 20, 2001

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