About Great Food

Sophie Grigson

Arroz a la Marinera - Rice with shrimp and clams
(or mussels)

Paella has become so famous that it is often made badly in restaurants. Unless you know for sure that you are dining in an establishment that makes every effort to produce a classy paella, then it should be avoided. In Spain and often in Spanish restaurants in other countries, it's worth trying out some of the many other rice dishes that are as traditional as paella, but simpler, and often better for that.

When I asked about the difference between this Arroz a la Marinera (seafood rice) and a seafood paella (the original one from Valencia is actually made with rabbit and snails, and not a shellfish in sight), the chef at the small restaurant in Seville said "mas calderoso" and that was that - more brothy, or in other words, wetter. It also happens to be simpler, with the additions to the rice pared down to clams and a few shrimp.

If you can't get clams, you can substitute mussels. For the shrimp, buy raw rather than pre-cooked because they have a much finer flavor. Search out Spanish rice (sometimes sold as paella rice), which is becoming much more widely available. Like risotto rice (a good second best, by the way, as long as it is well rinsed), it is shorter and stubbier than a long grain, absorbing plenty of liquid and swelling up without collapsing as it cooks.

Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 thin green Spanish peppers, or 1 ordinary green pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 medium-large tomato, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup dry or semi-dry white wine
  • 12 oz Spanish paella rice (Valencia rice) or long-grain, or rinsed risotto rice
  • 4 1/4 cups Fish Stock
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato purée
  • Generous pinch (or more if you prefer) saffron threads
  • 1 lb raw clams, thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed
  • 12 oz raw medium-sized shrimp, shelled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

Set a wide, deep pan over a moderate heat. Add the olive oil and heat for a minute or two. Now add the garlic and cook gently for about 30 seconds, just to flavor the oil. Next, add the green peppers, onion and a sprinkling of salt. Fry gently for another 5 minutes or so, until the onion and pepper are very tender without letting them brown. Now add the chopped tomato and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the tomato has collapsed into the other vegetables.

Sprinkle in the white wine and let it bubble and sizzle away. When it has evaporated, add the rice and stir for a few seconds. Pour in the fish stock and add the tomato purée, season with a touch more salt and a little pepper, then bring to a boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is almost, but not quite, cooked.

Meanwhile, put the saffron into a small bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of hot stock from the pan of rice. Let infuse until the rice is almost cooked. Stir it in, together with the clams and the shrimp. Cover for 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the dish gently once in a while, then remove the lid. The clams will all have opened - any that have not opened should be discarded. Taste the rice, which should still be quite wet with broth (though not actually saturated with it - this isn't a soup), and adjust the seasoning. Transfer, if you wish, to a warm serving dish, and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

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