I’ve always been a bit squeamish about cooking live things.
My mom used to buy live crabs in the Chinese markets and boil them while they were still trying to scramble out of the pot. It broke my heart every time and I just couldn’t bear to do the same. I’ve never cooked a live lobster and I’m still a bit weirded out by raw oysters (are they still alive?). In fact, even cooking mussels freaked me out once I found out that they are actually alive (and it’s no good to cook a dead mussel).
However, Bryan absolutely loves paella, and mussels are one of his favorites.
As I looked at the bag of living mussels in the super market, I silently told them I was sorry I had to cook them. I took them home, cleaned them well, and even successfully “de-bearded” them (yes, you have to pull off their “beards.”) It was hard work, and I kept wincing and dying inside while I did it, but I managed to carry on.
The rest of the ingredients were a bit easier to gather together: a couple spicy chorizo sausages, fresh shrimp, cleaned squid, onions, garlic, and some parsley.
I had received some special Afghan saffron from Rumi Spice, a cool Boston-based start up company founded by U.S. veterans who, while serving in Afghanistan, met Afghan saffron farmers who had no channels to sell their spices overseas.
The founding vets decided to start a new company to help these Afghan farmers export their high quality saffron to the U.S. The company’s larger dream is to convince more Afghan farmers to grow saffron instead of poppy, the plant used to make opium (which funds the Taliban). By offering farmers a competitive price for saffron (supposedly up to six time more than opium!), Afghan farmers will be incentivized to grown saffron instead of poppy.
Through a lot of networking, building relationships, and creating an export infrastructure where none existed, the Rumi Spice team have finally set up a successful way to import this high quality Afghan saffron.
I was thrilled they wanted to send me a sample to try.
Frankly, it was because of the saffron that I decided to make paella in the first place!
Start by sauteing chorizo sausage in your largest pan (in my case, a 14-inch paella pan!).
Add onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add rice! I used Spanish bomba rice, which is supposed to be ideal for making paella. Italian Arborio (risotto rice!) works as well.
Add warm broth that has already been infused with saffron (see recipe for details).
Mix and then cook for 20 minutes or so, until the rice is done. If you want a crispy bottom, DON’T stir the rice.
At the end, layer on your seafood! This is where I said my last apologies to the mussels before laying them down alongside the rest of the seafood. I added a few canned tomatoes for fun. You can also add peas (which I forgot to do until the end – oops!).
Ideally, if you don’t want overcooked seafood, add the seafood in order of which takes the longest to cook. In this case, I think the mussels take about 10 minutes, while the shrimp and squid might only take 2-3 minutes depending on how big they are.
Mussels are done when their shells have opened. A shell that never opened means the mussel was probably dead already, which means it’s not fresh and shouldn’t be eaten.
Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and optionally add a wedge or two of lemon.
- 1 chorizo sausage, sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 1-2 pinches of saffron
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 cups Spanish bomba rice (or Italian Arborio rice)
- 1 bunch of parsley, chopped
- 1 cup of peas
- 5-10 shrimp
- 1 lb mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 2 small squid, sliced into rings
- Over medium heat, cook chorizo and fry until done, about 5 minutes.
- Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent and soft, about 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the stock until it is just under boiling. Crush the saffron between your fingers and infuse the stock with the saffron.
- Once the onions are cooked, Add rice and stock. Stir to mix well.
- Cook, uncovered for about 20 minutes. If you want a crusty bottom, DON'T stir the rice.
- Once the rice is cooked, add the mussels and cook for 8 minutes. Add the shrimp and squid at the end and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley and add lemon wedges (optional).
Disclaimer – I did not pay for the saffron from Rumi Spice. All opinions are my own.