This is my version of paella. You can, of course, add some chicken or rabbit thigh early on (when you start the rice) to make it more of a mixed meal, but I prefer to have the mussels shine as the star.
- 60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil
- 1 small red (Spanish) onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 red capsicum, seeded and roughly chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 generous pinch saffron, toasted lightly in foil in a moderate oven
- 2 tbsp olive oil, extra
- 250 g Calasparra rice or risotto rice (see Note)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 700 ml water
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 500 g mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- lemon wedges, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Heat the olive oil in a wide-based frypan or paella pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook well until it starts to brown, then add the capsicum and garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until softened. Tip in both the paprikas, stir and cook lightly for a few seconds — don’t overdo it or they will burn. Add the tomato and saffron, and cook a couple of minutes longer. Remove from the pan and puree to a paste.
In the same pan, heat another 1-2 tbsp olive oil and fry the rice well until starting to colour a bit. Tip in the onion paste, the bay laves and thyme and fry for about 5 minutes.
Stir in the water and pepper, and possibly some salt, taking care not to oversalt as the mussels will release its salty brine into the rice later. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat right down. Cook the rice for about 25 minutes, without stirring, adding a splash of water if it’s drying out. It’s a good idea to let a crust form on the bottom, though the line between a nice crust and a burnt one is fine.
When the rice is just about cooked and the moisture has mostly been absorbed (it shouldn't be soggy), add the mussels, pushing them well down into the rice. Continue to cook until the mussels open; you can cover with a lid to help steam them open, if you like. Once all the mussels have opened, remove from the heat and let the rice sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes before serving with lemon, and a good crisp white wine or a beer.
• Calasparra rice is a Spanish short-grain rice, ideal for making paella. It's available from specialist stores. In a pinch you can use a risotto-style rice, such as arborio, or even better, vialone nano.