Jeff Koehler wrote the cookbook on paella. Literally. So I was keen to try out the paella recipes in his new cookbook, Spain. His shellfish paella is based on a recipe from his mother-in-law, who has been making this particular pan of rice every weekend for close to 50 years. For a paella newbie like myself, it seemed like a well-tested place to start.
This particular paella contains a vibrant mix of shellfish—mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, and langoustines all come into play—seasoned simply with green peppers, tomatoes, saffron, and paprika. The dish is carefully assembled over a series of timed steps, yielding properly cooked seafood and tender grains of rice.
Why I picked this recipe: I couldn't skip cooking paella, and a mix of shellfish sounded like the most fun.
What worked: I often have bad luck perfecting rice dishes the first time around, so I was surprised that my paella finished with evenly cooked, tender rice grains throughout. The sweet, briny flavor of the shellfish shone throughout the dish, and it was enjoyed by all.
What didn't: Koehler didn't include directions for returning the clams and mussels to the pan. I added them after I reduced the heat to low (at the same time as the langoustines, if you've got 'em). I used unseasoned fish stock, so I found that the paella needed salt. (You will likely agree, especially if using water.) A sprinkle of flaky sea salt before serving did the trick.
Suggested tweaks: I don't own a paella pan, so I followed Koehler's suggestion to split the cooking in between two large skillets. I cooked the recipe in one pan as written through step 4, and then split the mix evenly between the two skillets before adding the stock and rice. I couldn't find langoustines, so I just left them out.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. She blogs at Cooking Wolves. Follow her @KateHWiliams.