By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Did you know that some people claim that one should not eat mussels in months whose names do not include an “R”?
This myth has been largely debunked by the fact that many mussel varieties are now cultivated safely year-round. However, ever since I moved to the Northeast six years ago, I have found that mussels seem to taste exceptionally good in some “R” months, mainly those of the fall and early winter: SeptembeR, OctobeR, NovembeR, DecemberR, and JanuaRy.
To celebrate the good taste of mussels, I often try to include a seafood paella in at least one fall harvest season meal. While paella often seems frighteningly complex to prepare (and incredibly expensive, given the large number of different types of fish that go into the dish), I think it’s worth the effort – once in awhile, at least. And recently I discovered a tactic that made the planning for paella even easier: Mark Bittman’s Paella Master Recipe.
The recipe, which can be found here, breaks paella down to a few key ingredients: Rice, olive oil, onion, meat, fish, vegetables, and a cooking liquid such as vegetable broth or meat stock. Bittman proposes using any combination of these items in the following proportions: rice (2 cups), oil (3 tablespoons), onion (1), green pepper (1) cooking liquid (3-1/2 cups) and meat, fish, and vegetables (1/2 pound each). This formula turns paella into a dish based on what you might have in your refrigerator right away, or might find at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market on a particular Wednesday or Saturday. The cooking takes about 50 minutes, so yes, it’s a little more work than the average dinner-on-the-run, but really not that much more.
Recently, I applied Bittman’s formula to an all seafood and vegetable preparation, using chicken stock that I had in the freezer from a recent batch of bone broth as the cooking liquid. In place of meat, I added some extra vegetables and a little extra fish. I also substituted garlic for the onion in Bittman’s recipe and used a red pepper instead of a green one. Every ingredient – except for the rice, saffron, and oil – was obtained from either the farmers’ market, my garden, or in the case of the salmon and shrimps, Moby Rick’s Seafood Shop. Here’s the recipe:
Fall Seafood Paella
(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Paella Master Recipe, New York Times)
* 12 mussels
* ½ dozen clams
• 6 jumbo shrimps
* ½ pound scallops
* ¼ pound firm fleshed fish such as cod, monkfish, or salmon
* 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced (about 2-4 cloves, depending on size)
* 1 red sweet pepper
* 1 Japanese style long eggplant
* ½ cup broccoli florets
* ½ cup purple kale
• 1-1/2 cups rice (basmati, Jasmine, or any other variety of short- or long-grained rice will work)
• pinch of saffron
• 3 cups chicken broth
• ½ fresh lemon
• Olive oil
1. Peel and devein shrimps.
2. Steam mussels and clams open in a pot with water. Remove from shells and keep warm and moist.
3. Mince garlic, cut eggplant into thin circles, red pepper into slices, and broccoli into 1-2 inch florets.
4. Heat oil in a large skillet or cast iron pan. Add garlic and eggplant and sauté for about five minutes until eggplant is soft. Add pepper and broccoli and cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat.
5. Add rice and saffron to pan, and toast at a medium heat for about a minute. Add chicken broth. Lower heat and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes.
6. Remove stems from kale and tear or chop leaves. Add to rice mixture, cover and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.
7. Cut fish into 1-inch pieces and add to rice, along with other vegetables. Cover and continue to cook at a low heat for about five minutes, adding more broth or water, if necessary.
8. Add scallops and shrimp to rice, stirring gently so that hot wet rice covers them. Cover, turn off heat, and allow scallops and shrimp to cook into hot mixture.
9. Drain excess liquid from mussels and clams and add to rice. Top with slices of fresh lemon and serve.