The other day I read a newsletter pondering whether “the vibes are off” in New York City this summer. This prompted me to wonder: How are London's vibes faring right now?
After the last 18 months we’ve had, it’s not like we can just emerge and throw ourselves into a non-stop party without careening into an emotional wall at high speed. The perma-grey, monsoon-like downpours and fraught Covid debates aren’t helping. But in this strangest of seasons, I’m finding more moments of brightness, flashes of another, better world peeking through the cloud cover.
There is the joy in sharing pints again. In putting out furniture on the terrace and cooking for friends (in between rain showers). In discovering the parts of London I’d missed or even in heading into the countryside for a day – the kind of travel that once felt mundane but which now feels extraordinary.
Maybe that’s why I found myself with a recent hankering for paella. If actual overseas travel still feels too remote a possibility, at least I can eat like I’m somewhere warm and Mediterranean. This dish is sunny optimism encapsulated, a postcard from brighter climes, lavish with tiger prawns and squid, golden with saffron and perfectly proportioned to be the main course at a dinner party.
At its worst, paella is that claggy, turmeric-dyed stuff peddled at food markets or tourist traps from huge vats. At its best, it is jubilant and fragrant, racy with brininess and thrumming with umami. Making it at home reveals how good it can be, from those bouncy grains of broth-infused rice down to that crunchy layer of socarrat at the bottom of the pan.
It’s even better if you serve it with a wine that matches it in tone and temperament, like Oriol Perez de Tudela’s Escabeces. Hailing from Tarragona, this peachy-hued bottle brings the stonefruit notes its appearance suggests, but there’s real, adult depth to it. Made from rosy Cartoixa Vermell grapes (aka red Xarel-lo), this complex wine undergoes carbonic maceration, prolonged skin contact and aging on both old oak and amphorae. Like this paella, it’s both fun and serious. And together, the two summon up the joy of a trip to Spain – even if, like me, you don’t yet feel ready to hop on a plane.
Tiger Prawn and Squid Paella
950ml fish stock (I used El Navarrico Fumet Fish Stock)
1 large pinch saffron threads
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
Fine sea salt, to taste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g tomatoes, diced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
50ml white or rosé wine
150g frozen broad beans
300g squid, cleaned and sliced into ½-inch-thick rings (plus tentacles)
400g Calasparra or Bomba rice
8 shell-on tiger prawns
Large handful flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
Lemon wedges, to garnish
1. In a medium saucepan, add the fish stock and saffron and bring to a simmer. Keep over low heat until needed.
2. Unless you have a paellera, use the largest lidded frying pan you have (mine is roughly 12 inches across). Place over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and season lightly with fine sea salt. Cook down for 8-10 minutes, until softened and just starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, or until it loses its raw smell.
3. Add the tomatoes and turn the heat to medium-low. Season with additional salt, plus the pepper and paprika. Cook for roughly 12 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the tomatoes are broken down and the mixture is starting to look like a thick sauce. Add the frozen broad beans and the splash of wine, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook for several minutes, or until the liquid has mostly evaporated.
4. Next, pour in the warmed stock all in one addition. Add the squid and mix through before pouring in the rice. Stir once and then do not stir again – you want the rice to soak up the broth but not to become creamy like a risotto. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer; place a lid on the pan and cook for 12 minutes.
5. Remove the lid. Arrange the shell-on tiger prawns evenly over the top of the rice (do not push them into the rice). Continue cooking for five minutes, or until the prawns are pink on one side. Gently flip and cook for five minutes more on the reverse, or until the prawns are fully cooked through. By now, the liquid should be mostly absorbed – cook for 1-2 minutes more if not. The goal is to create a socarrat, or layer of dark, crispy rice on the bottom of the plan; see if you can hear the oil start to crackle, which indicates all the broth has been absorbed and that the rice is frying gently.
6. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for five minutes (you can remove the heads from the prawns and set aside to make serving easier, if preferred). To serve, divide between plates and garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.