This may upset a few people. Before I even say it, I'm going to apologize up front because I do not mean any disrespect. The thing is, I've traveled through Spain, I've been to Valencia, and I was not impressed with the paella. That sounds crazy, doesn't it? Logically, it would mean that I just don't like paella. But that's far from the case.
My issue with the paella from Valencia was the ratio of rice to, well, everything else. There was way too much rice, and not enough meat and seafood to make it worth the 25 euro price tag. When I finished eating it, I felt slow and sluggish, much like a carb-filled meal tends to do, and not ideal when you're sightseeing around a beautiful country.
I wanted my paella to be different. I kept the technique of traditional Spanish paella, but used ingredients that are closer to home. My first thought was to only use local ingredients, but I fell short after visiting The Spanish Table in Berkeley, where I bought paella rice from Spain. This was an all seafood paella. I purchased the fish at Ver Brugge in Rockridge, and it must have been my lucky day because they had homemade seafood sausage available, a perfect substitute to chorizo. I also used fresh squid, scallops and local halibut, combined with tomatoes, peas, chickpeas, capers, olives and mint. The mint was the biggest surprise, lending its refreshing aroma to the entirety of the dish.
I didn't use broth in this recipe, and that was semi-intentional. I wanted to use either vegetable or seafood broth, but when I didn't have time to make it myself, I opted for water instead. I thought it a much better solution than ruining the meal with processed stock from a box - after all, you don't drink wine from a box, do you?
Ingredients for California Paella
1 1/2 cups of Valencia rice
1 pound of seafood sausage (this one was salmon with herbs.)
1/2 pound halibut fillets, cut into chunks
1/2 pound of cleaned squid, cut into rings
1/2 pound of sea scallops
3 tomatoes, skinned and crushed
1 sweet onion, diced
3 stalks of green garlic, chopped (discard about 3 inches of green from the top)
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 cup dried chickpeas - soaked overnight and cooked until tender
1/2 cup chopped black olives
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, soaked and drained
1 cup fresh peas, blanched
1 lemon - juiced
1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
3 cups of water or homemade fish stock
Start with the base:
Heat up a large, shallow pan, and add about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Throw in the chopped onion and green garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, a small handful of chopped mint, sea salt, fresh pepper and 1 tablespoon of paprika. Turn the heat down a notch, and cook until all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates and the sauce thickens - about 15 minutes. Spoon the sauce into a bowl and set aside.
Add the rice:
Next, add one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and cook the red and yellow peppers and chickpeas for 10 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of rice, the reserved sauce, the olives, capers, 3 cups of water or stock and a pinch of saffron. Stir to combine. Leave on medium heat for 10 minutes. Next, lower the heat and cook for an additional 25 minutes. Take a small taste of the rice to see if it's cooked. If so, turn the heat to high for one minute to brown the rice on the bottom of the pan - then remove from heat. If it's not done, add a tablespoon of water and cook for 5 more minutes. Don't stir the rice at all while cooking.
Make the fish while the rice cooks:
Set the heat to medium-high on a cast-iron skillet. Add the sausage and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add the halibut to the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes until opaque. Remove the halibut form the pan. Next, throw the calamari rings in the pan, cook for 1 minute, and set them aside as well. Last but not least, season the scallops with salt and pepper, cook on both sides for 2 minutes each.
Assemble the paella:
When the rice is done, top with the blanched peas, then scatter all the seafood on top of the peas and squeeze a lemon over the whole thing. Cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes. When serving, be sure to get an ample amount of seafood in each plate. Garnish with mint leaves.
Where I Shopped:
All the seafood: Ver Brugge in Rockridge
Tomatoes, sweet onion: Wilson Farms, Old Oakland Farmers' Market
Green garlic, fresh mint: Temescal Farmers' Market
Valencia rice, saffron threads: The Spanish Table, Berkeley
Red / yellow peppers, dried chickpeas: Monterey Market, Berkeley