Monkfish and mussel paella

Paella is awesome. Highlights for me include: not having to do anything once the stock’s poured over the rice (cf risotto); in fact, not really having to do a great deal full stop; scraping the caramelised crust from the bottom of the pan; and eating loads of rice.

This recipe is taken from a a little thing I wrote for Borough Market. The prompt for that was to find a suitable dish for Valentines Day. Thankfully, that day is over now (I made a stand and was thoroughly disappointing, as always), but the reasons behind me suggesting it remain valid through the year. It is simple to make. It is a crowd (or partner) pleaser. And it is, of course, delicious.

I like, in particular, the use of green peppers and fennel in the sofrito, instead of the more traditional red pepper and onion; and the fact it’s seafood heavy, thanks to a fish stock base and the monkfish.

Eat with a raw fennel salad and a glass or two of cava, dry sherry or something crisp and white.

Monkfish and mussel paella

For 2

  • 180g short grain Spanish paella rice (Calasparra)
  • ½ small fennel bulb (80g), diced like an onion
  • ½ green pepper (80g), diced as per the fennel
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 plum tomato, diced as per the fennel
  • 3 stems saffron
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 500g fish stock
  • 100g water
  • 150g dry sherry
  • 180g monkfish fillet (ask the fishmonger to fillet it from the tail)
  • 6-8 mussels
  • 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and pepper

First make a ‘sofrito’ from the fennel, pepper, garlic and tomato. In a small saucepan, slowly fry the diced pepper and fennel in a little oil over a low heat for fifteen minutes. Add a pinch of salt at the start of this and stir occasionally. After five minutes, put a lid on the mix, and five minutes later stir and add the garlic and tomatoes. Cook down for five minutes more, now with the lid off, until the ‘sofrito’ is sticky and sweet. You can do this a day in advance if you wish.

Bring the fish stock to the boil. Add the water, saffron and paprika and let this stand for five minutes whilst you clean and de-beard the mussels, and slice the monkfish across the fillet into two cm thick circles.

Now, add a spoon of oil to a 23cm paella or frying pan and put on a low-medium flame. Put the sofrito in the pan. Add the rice. Turn the heat up and coat the rice with the oil in the sofrito. Pour in the alcohol. Let this reduce by half. Spread the rice evenly over the pan, then pour in all of the saffron and paprika flavoured fish stock and water. The liquid will be about one to two cm above the rice.

Turn the heat down to medium so it quietly bubbles away for seventeen minutes. Don’t stir.

After seventeen minutes, push the monkfish into the rice, but not so far as the bottom of the pan. The water should be much reduced now, and needs to be all gone in the next eight minutes – turn the heat up or down accordingly.

After three to four more minutes, dot the mussels evenly over the paella dish and let them steam open as the final bit of water cooks away. We want, by the way, for there to be a little crust at the bottom of the pan – again, resist temptation to stir.

By twenty five minutes, the water should have cooked away, the monkfish will be spot on, and the mussels opening up. Turn the heat off. Squeeze ¼ of a lemon over the paella, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper, and cover tightly with foil whilst you pop the cava and set the table.

Remove the foil, serve onto two plates direct from the pan. Eat with a cold, shaved fennel salad dressed with lemon and olive oil, or just a crisp, green one.