California Paella with Lobster


Paella’s just a fancy schmancy word for pan so don’t let the Spaniards scare you away from making this at home, especially if fresh fish is available. The key to a good paella is the crunchy layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan, called socarrat in Spain. The toasted rice develops on its own if the paella is cooked over an open fire (or stovetop burner). If cooked in an oven, however, it will not. To correct this, I place the paella over a high flame while listening to the rice toast at the bottom of the pan. Once the aroma of toasted rice wafts upwards, remove it from the heat.

California Paella with Lobster
  • 2 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup peas
  • ½ cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • Pinch of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1½ cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1½ pound rock fish (or other local white fish)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 large lobster (steamed and cracked)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  1. In a 10-inch paella pan, cook the chorizo over moderate heat and break it up with a spoon until some of the fat is rendered and the chorizo is browned, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Stir in the peas, tomatoes, rice, saffron with its liquid and the 1½ cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, without stirring, until the rice is al dente and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the ¼ cup of olive oil until shimmering. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over high heat, turning once, until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the rice. Discard the oil.
  3. Wipe out the skillet. Pour in the wine and lemon juice. Add the fish filets, cover and cook, shaking the skillet, about 2 minutes per side. Pour the fish and cooking liquid over the rice.
  4. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until the paella is just heated through. Increase the heat to high for about 3 minutes or until you hear the rice start to crackle. Remove from heat. Place the steamed lobster on top. Garnish with the parsley and scallion, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and serve.

Pair this recipe with a good Spanish red. The varietals from Jumilla seem to have a delicious, fruit-forward, and complex backbone that stands up well to the saffron. Try a bottle of 2012 Juan Gil. Made from 100% Monastrell, the fruit for this wine comes from old vines grown in chalky limestone. The wine is purple-coloured and offers superb aromatics of oak smoke, moist earth, and blueberry pie. Salud!

Movie Night suggestion: After Carlos, a 12-year-old boy whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at an ominous boy’s orphanage he discovers the school is haunted and contains many dark secrets. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) El espinazo del diablo (original title) is one of Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece films. What is a ghost?

Film notes: A labor of love for director Guillermo del Toro was sixteen years in development and in 2003 said that this was his favorite of his own films.

The design of the ghost was inspired by the white-faced spirits of J-horror films like Ju-on (a personal favorite of mine).

The film’s title refers to the medical condition of spina bifida.

Guillermo del Toro wrote the script when he was in college.