Some dishes are a victim of their success. The Yorkshire pudding springs to mind – just a little too tasty and conveniently shaped for its own good; the Scotch egg suffers from a similar problem. One of the saddest examples is the brave paella. As Catalan author Josep Pla put it, the "abuses" committed against Spain's most famous dish are "excessive – an authentic scandal". It's little things like Keith Floyd's quick-cook rice, as much as any outrageous Thai "twist" or Caribbean pineapple garnish, which offend the sensibilities of Valencians who claim the dish as their birthright. Authentic paella, according to Josep, does not contain fish or shellfish; they are ‘absolutely out of the question’. Chicken and rabbit are mandatory with snails as an optional extra. However, here on the Costa we still prefer a paella with seafood as served in restaurants and chiringuitos up and down the coast.
4 raw, unshelled tiger prawns
90ml olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500ml good-quality fish stock
150g monkfish, cut into chunks
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
200g chopped tomatoes
50ml dry white wine
Pinch of saffron soaked in 1 tbsp hot water
200g paella rice
150g baby squid, cut into rings
150g broad beans or peas
150g mussels, scrubbed
Handful of flat-leaf parsley to garnish
½ lemon, cut into wedges
1. Shell the prawns and put the flesh aside. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan and gently sauté one clove of chopped garlic for two minutes. Add the prawn heads and tails and sauté, stirring to break them up, for three minutes. Pour in the stock and simmer gently for 30 minutes, then strain, season to taste and keep warm.
2. Heat the remaining oil in a 26cm paella or other wide, thin-based pan and add the monkfish. Sauté for five minutes until slightly browned, then remove and set aside. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, then stir in the paprika and cook for one minute. Tip in the tomatoes and wine, turn up the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the squid and beans.
3. Stir in the rice to coat well so it forms an even layer, then add 400ml stock and the saffron and soaking water. Simmer vigorously for 10 minutes then arrange the monkfish, mussels and prawns on the top of the dish, pushing them well into the rice but not otherwise disturbing it. Cook for about eight minutes – if the dish looks very dry before the rice has cooked completely then add the rest of the stock, bearing in mind it shouldn't be at all soupy.
4. Cover the dish with foil and take off the heat. Allow to rest for 10 minutes then garnish with flat-leaf parsley and wedges of lemon.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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