I have a fabulous paella recipe that takes ME about 2 hours to make. There are 3 kinds of meat to be cooked off sequentially (bacon, chorizo, and bone-in chicken thighs), shellfish to be cleaned/prepped (shrimp, clams, mussels, squid), plus aromatics and vegetables to mince/chop/slice (garlic, shallot, onion, red peppers, peas). I think there might be some wine in there somewhere too. Eventually it all goes in giant roasting pan (I don’t have a proper paella pan) to cook off in the oven. The end result is amazing and perfect for a crowd, especially in cool weather, but quite the production for me to pull off. I only psych myself up for it about once a year.
Last winter, I stumbled on a couple of less-complicated vegetarian paella recipes in the Washington Post. Unlike my more traditional recipe, these kick-start the cooking on the stovetop and then finish off in the oven, AND, they had far fewer ingredients and were for a much smaller portion-size (they were part of a “Cooking for One” column). I ended up doubling the rice and stock and added shrimp, aiming to feed two hungry omnivores.
Weeknight Shrimp Paella
Inspired by recipes published Dec 2012 in the Washington Post
Serves 2- 3 as a meal, 4 – 6 as a first course
1 pound shrimp, peeled, be-headed, deveined (Save the shells! See note below)
2 cups homemade shrimp stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of saffron
Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2/3 cup Arborio rice (uncooked)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 roasted red pepper, cut into thin strips
Shredded parmesan cheese
Put the stock and the saffron in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and heat in the microwave until steaming but not boiling. Season with salt to taste (go easy, there’s bacon and shrimp to come).
Put the olive oil and bacon pieces into a warm oven-proof 10″ skillet and bring slowly up to medium. Cook the bacon until it is crispy and the fat rendered off. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and put it on a paper towel to drain.
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Add the shallots to the fat and cook until soft. Add the rice and stir to ensure each grain is coated with fat. Add the hot stock and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until most but not ALL of the stock is absorbed, maybe 6 to 10 minutes (it should look soupy).
Add the peas and pull from the stovetop. Arrange your shrimp over the top of the rice — nestling them slightly into the rice. Arrange the pepper strips across/between the shrimp. Put the pan into the oven and cook until the shrimp are done and the rice has absorbed all the liquid, probably 6 to 10 minutes.
Pull from the oven and let sit on the counter for about five minutes to rest. Scoop into bowls and garnish with the reserved, crumbled bacon or parmesan cheese (or both)!
We drank prosecco with a splash of creme de cassis (’cause it’s such a pretty color!).
Note: I buy frozen shrimp, 21/25 count (a versatile bite-size), in a 2-lb bag for $9.99 or $10.99, on sale. I usually use half a bag at a time — just close up the remainder really tight and use another time. They have been beheaded and deveined, but I have to peel. Throw the peel in a saucepan with a bay leaf and a few peppercorns and add water just to cover the shells. Heat over medium heat to a gentle simmer, turn down, and let it cook for 15 minutes or so. The shells will turn pink and the stock will turn a rich golden color. Let cool in the saucepan, then strain. I usually add a touch of water to bring it to a 2-cup or 3-cup total volume, then freeze in 1-cup or 2-cup portions. I don’t add salt — the shells contribute some — and I’d rather salt the final dish than the stock. I use this stock in risotto, paella, and gumbo. Should keep about 6 months in the freezer.