Faux Seafood Paella

While this dish has all the makings of a good paella, I dare not call it a real paella. I fear I will be attacked by paella purists (they are known to be a little crazy). I don’t have a paella pan, and more importantly I didn’t use paella rice. I used Arborio instead. I can’t call it a risotto either, because it didn’t turn out creamy. Whatever we should call it, the fact is, it turned out fab. We finished it in minutes! This recipe calls for a lot of ingredients and quite a few steps. But really, when you get stuck into it, you’ll realise it’s really easy and so worth the effort.

You’ll need:For the cooking liquid:
1 litre of water (maybe more)
6 or 7 pieces of char grilled capsicum (I used Coles brand)
1 capful saffron extract (I buy a bottle from David Jones and store it in the freezer)
1 teaspoon chicken stock powder

For the rice:
400 grams Arborio rice (for about 4 adults)
1 white onion (sliced finely)
1/2 red onion (sliced finely)
1/2 large red chilli (sliced finely)
6 slices of spicy peperoni or sucuk (I use beef peperoni) – diced finely
2 garlic cloves (peeled and sliced finely)
Oil (I use the oil that the capsicums were soaking in)
1 glass white wine

For seasoning:
2 teaspoons Portuguese seasoning (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Cheerful Charlie’s Chilli paste / or just use the chilli oil (optional)
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Main ingredients:
¼ cooked chicken (I bought Nandos Chicken) – shredded
6-7 Mussels (cleaned)
1 baby squid tube (sliced finely into thin rings)
10 prawns (cleaned)
½ cup frozen green peas
2 pieces of char grilled capsicum (sliced finely)

Garnish:
½ cup fresh parsley (chopped roughly)
½ lemon cut into quarters
1 capful saffron extract
1 teaspoon good quality olive oil (I use cold extract)

Step 1: Cooking liquid
Blend pieces of capsicum with the water. Strain through a sieve. Press on the pulp as much as you can to extract the capsicum flavour. Add saffron and chicken stock powder to this liquid. Set aside.

Step 2: Cooking rice
Heat oil in a large wide pan. Add onion and garlic and cook slowly until soft and sweet. Add chilli and peperoni, stir well. The peperoni will crisp up. Add the rice and fry the rice in the onion mix until translucent. The rice should absorb the oil. Once the rice changes colour, add the wine and keep stirring. The rice will absorb the wine. Pour in all of the capsicum water, put a lid on the pan and cook until the rice is almost cooked. You will need to keep checking during the cooking process and add more water if needed. Try to avoid over-stirring. Unlike a risotto, you don’t want the rice creamy. Only stir when you add more water and to prevent the rice burning.

Step 3:
Add the seasonings, chicken, prawns and frozen peas. Stir well. Place the mussels on top of the rice, put the lid back on and increase the heat of the stove to high. This will steam the mussels. Once the mussels begin to open, sprinkle the squid on top of the rice. Put the lid back on. Cook until squid is done.

Step 4:
Leave the rice for about 10 minutes off the heat for the flavours to develop. At this stage, you can serve the rice as it is, simply garnish with parsley and cut lemon and drizzle saffron extract and olive oil on top. I like to go one step further to dry the rice out a little and give it a little crust (see step 5).

Step 5:
I pick out the mussels, and scoop the rice and other ingredients out into a baking tray. Drizzle saffron extract and olive oil on top. Arrange the mussels on top of the rice and bake it uncovered for about 10 minutes at 150 degrees in the oven. Take it out of the oven, sprinkle parsley on top, tuck the lemon wedges into the rice and serve piping hot.

This extra step also allows you to prepare the rice a few hours earlier and then heat up just before your guests are ready to eat.

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