This recipe is adapted from one in Penelope Casas' book Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes from Spain. It serves eight hungry people. You can substitute whatever seafood you like.
Don't panic when you read the recipe. It looks a lot more complicated than it is. Like a stir-fry, everything can be prepared ahead so you just have to do assembly at the grill. And don't shy away from using the grill. As a controlled experiment on this dish, I made a smaller version inside on the stove. There was no comparison. Head outdoors.
Making paella is a very social production — perfect for a party. While you're cooking, guests can sit outside sipping sangria or cava (Spanish champagne) and eating marconas (Spanish almonds) and manchego (Spanish cheese).
All the fish, shellfish and vegetables can be cleaned, cut up and refrigerated hours in advance.
3 dozen mussels, thoroughly cleaned
6 to 8 cups clam juice mixed with mussel broth
1/2 teaspoon crumbled thread saffron*
1 1/2 pounds monkfish and grouper or other firm-fleshed fish, cut into bite-size pieces**
2 dozen small clams, thoroughly cleaned
18 large shrimp in their shells
Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons minced parsley
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped***
6 small scallions, green portion trimmed, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped****
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
3 cups imported Spanish or other short-grain rice
*Luis recommends using only saffron from Spain to ensure it's the real thing.
**I used cod since it was all they had at the fish market. It was fine.
***There is a debate among paella makers about whether to use onion. I thought it added to the dish.
****Luis says in Spain, red peppers are not used in paella. Rather, jarred pimentos are sprinkled on top of the finished dish for color.
Place 1 1/2 dozen mussels in a skillet with 3/4 cup water. Cover and bring to a boil on the stove. Remove the mussels as they open. Reserve the meat and discard the shells. When all the mussels have opened, pour the liquid from the skillet into a large pot and add enough clam juice to make 6 cups. (I found I needed a lot more liquid, so have extra clam juice on hand.) Stir in the saffron. (You can prepare this in advance, cooling and refrigerating the mussel meat and the broth for a few hours. If you make the dish straight through, keep the broth hot over a low heat on the stove.)
Dry the fish and shrimp well between paper towels. Sprinkle all over with salt and let sit 10 minutes at room temperature. With a mortar and pestle (something I've never mastered) or a miniprocessor (I used my big processor), mash the parsley, garlic, thyme and 1/8 teaspoon salt into a paste. Stir in the paprika; add a little water if necessary to make the right consistency. (This can be done up to a day in advance. Refrigerate and bring to room temperature before using.)
Heat 6 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet and quickly saute the fish and shrimp (in their shells), 1 to 2 minutes. They should not be fully cooked. Remove the seafood to a warm platter. This can be done over the fire. I just found it easier to do this step on the stove. (This can be done an hour or so in advance.)
When you're ready to prepare the paella, reheat the broth and start the fire.
When you have a good, hot bed of coals, put the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, the onion, scallions and red peppers in the paella pan and cook over the grill until the vegetables are slightly softened. (The paella pan sits on top of the grill.)
Stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in enough hot broth to cover the rice. The liquid should be boiling. Stir the rice and rotate the pan occasionally. Add all the reserved fish (but not the shrimp), the reserved mussel meat and the parsley mixture. Taste for salt and continue to boil until the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice. Add liquid as needed as you would with risotto.
Arrange the shrimp and the uncooked mussels over the rice, placing the edge of the mussel shells that will open facing up. Cook, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rice is almost al dente. (If the mussels and clams aren't opening, they may be removed and steamed in a separate pan, then added to the paella.) Remove the pan from the fire and cover with foil. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes until the rice is cooked to taste. Garnish with lemon wedges.
I served a simple gazpacho for a first course. I planned to serve a salad but we were all too full.
Note: Paella grills are double ringed and fired with gas or butane. They are available by mail order from places such as The Spanish Table (www.spanishtable.com), which calls them butanos.