Food & Drink

Pitch Perfect Paella with Steven Saunders

PAELLA is a fab dish to cook at home especially good for feeding large numbers and excellent for sharing.

This classic national Spanish dish is a favourite, but are we really seeing it at its best? Paella on the Costa del Sol has been a disappointment for me. Often served as dried up rice with overcooked fish, it leaves me wondering why and how this can be a national treasure!  When we were with our Spanish friends last week I shared those feelings (after a few drinks!) and they gave me a challenge to cook them a Paella the following Sunday at our home.

With all the beautiful fresh fish and shellfish around us I wanted to create beautiful seafood Paella. I dont mind the mixed ones but little bits of low quality chicken and the odd piece of rabbit doesn’t turn me on. I want this to be a celebration of Spanish fish as local as possible served with rice that has been slow cooked in lobster bisque, but can I pull it off?

Valencian paella is believed to be the original recipe and consists of white rice, green beans, chicken, duck and rabbit, white beans and snails flavoured with saffron and rosemary.

Another very common but seasonal ingredient is artichokes. In Andalucia we add locally caught fish or frequently serve it as just seafood paella.

The choice of rice is important, as you don’t want a rice that overcooks easily or the dish will be mushy. I went shopping to find Valencian rice which I easily found from the company Fallera but there are many others.

History says that the Valencians created this dish and so I was keen to use some original ingredients like the rice, but I won’t be cooking it in the same way. My thoughts are to cook the fish perfectly and separately and bring the beautiful slow cooked rice (which has absorbed a delicious shellfish bisque) together with the perfect fish, at the end.

My Spanish friends Neil and Candela will be the judge. Other guests were Mark and Claire Clattenburg.

Mark is the well known international football referee, he loves paella but is allergic to mussels. I will have to do two paellas as I was planning to use the lovely juices from cooking the mussels to help cook the rice with the bisque.

Not difficult to make but it is time consuming. The results were in and they all loved it including Candela who cooks mean Paella herself! Mark said that in football language this would be a winning goal!


Make the lobster sauce/ bisque

500g of trimmings and shells from a lobster (can be a frozen lobster)

500g of whole prawns

125 ml tomato paste or frito

2 litres of shellfish or fish stock (you can buy a ready made one)

3 sticks of fresh celery (chopped )

1 leek (cleaned and washed and chopped into smallish pieces)

1 onion (peeled and sliced)

4 cloves garlic (peeled and sliced)

2 pieces star anise

½ glass of Pernod to finish

2 glasses white wine

1 glass of brandy

250 ml thick cream

1 flat tablespoon of cornflour

In a large pan sweat off the shells and fish pieces and add the whole prawns. Now sweat the vegetables and star anise with the shells and prawns until coloured. Now add the tomato paste and then finally the fish stock.

Cook out on simmer for at least an hour.

To finish add the cream and cook and whisk it in for a few minutes then pass the contents through a sieve mashing as much of the prawn and shells to extract the flavor or use a blender and blend the contents and then pass through a sieve into a fresh pan and reduce a little.  Finally add the wine, brandy and Pernod whisk in and taste and adjust seasoning.  If you need the sauce to be a little thicker add a little cold water to the cornflour and whisk in. Ensure that you cook the cornflour out for a minimum of 5 minutes .

Step 2

Cook the rice (Serves 8)

  • 100 cl extra virgin olive oil
  • 1kg of Valencian rice (soaked in cold water to clean)
  • 1litre shellfish stock as above
  • 1 litre of mussel stock (see below cooking mussels)
  • 1 litre of chicken stock made from a stock cube/powder if fresh is not available
  • 2 cloves garlic finely sliced
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary
  • A generous pinch of fresh Saffron
  • Maldon Salt
  1. Heat up the paella pan, add the oil and let it get hot
  2. Now add the shellfish bisque and mussel stock and the garlic
  3. Add HALF the chicken stock and reserve the other half to finish
  4. Add a sprig of rosemary and heat everything up.
  5. Just when it begins to boil, add the rice and saffron
  6. Stir in well moving the rice around to absorb the sauce
  7. When the rice is cooking for about 10 minutes, decrease the heat gradually for at least another ten minutes.

Once the rice is cooked and all the liquid has evaporated, let it stand for a few more minutes covered with foil, and then it’s ready for the fish.

Step 3

Cook the mussels

Soak and clean the mussels in cold water. Cook the mussels by heating a large pan now drop in the mussels. Now add 3 cloves of chopped fresh garlic 1 small onion sliced and 1 bottle of dry white wine. Put a lid on the sauce pan and steam mussels until they open. Pass the mussel liquor through a fine sieve and reserve for the paella sauce. Reserve the mussels also.


Step 4

Cook the other fish
Large prawns in their shells (8) mussels ( 1 net) dorada or sea bass or salmon (about 800g) oysters optional ( 8) scallops ( 8)

Cook the fish simply as all the flavours will be in the paella. Cook the prawns whole in their shells on a tray in an oven 200c covered with 2/3 cloves of sliced garlic and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Bake until hot usually 8/10 mins.

Fry the white fish or salmon in a pan with a little olive oil and butter until just cooked. Fry the scallops in a separate pan which is red hot on the stove and then add a little olive oil so that the scallops are brown on the outside and still pink and juicy inside.

Cook the mussels as above. If you like you can add clams to the mussels for variation and cook together.


Step 5
To finish
Arrange the prawns, bass fillets, cooked mussels and scallops on top of the cooked rice and cover with the reserved chicken stock and bake in the oven 180c for 8/10 mins and serve.

  • I used fresh oysters at the end ( not cooked) to garnish but this is optional
  • I also used fried samphire cooked in butter but again this is optional
  • Serve steaming hot in the centre of the table and enjoy!
WINNING GOAL: Referee Mark Clattenburg enjoyed the paella.

You can email Steven for any questions or bookings at:

Steven Saunders FMCGB

The Little Geranium

La Cala de Mijas (Behind the Town Hall)

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