Recipe of the week: seafood paella that loves a skillet

When we think one-pan dinner, we think rice. We think rice because we love paella and all the fragrant succulence and color it brings to a humble pan. 

Here’s a recipe that doesn’t require a backyard paella pan, a flamenco soundtrack or even traditional Spanish bomba rice. It calls for Arborio rice, as would a risotto. Lately, we’ve been cooking with Valencia-style rice and think it would work well in this recipe, which is skillet-friendly. 

We found it in a soon-to-be-published cookbook by Daniel Shumski, titled “Will It Skillet?” (Workman, April 2017. 


Seafood Paella 

Author Daniel Shumski writes the following about the recipe: 

“Originally cooked over an open flame in a shallow pan, this dish from Spain’s Valencia region fits right into your skillet. 

“There’s no question that authentic paella is not made in a skillet. And there are a practically uncountable number of paellas in Spain, all with varying ingredients and regional twists. Chicken, rabbit, and escargots all have a claim to being a part of traditional paella. 

“ For the skillet, my thoughts turned to a seafood-based paella, with chicken broth and saffron to tie the dish back to its origins. There are substitutes for saffron, but—and this is key—they really seek only to replicate the distinct yellow hue it lends a dish. Nothing can mimic its flavor. 

“Skillet paella takes advantage of cast iron’s versatility. It starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven, which means the last 30 minutes or so don’t require you to hover over the dish and leaves you free to enjoy, say, a traditional Spanish beverage such as sangria, or the drink of your choice. We already agreed we weren’t being sticklers here, right?” 


3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Pinch of whole saffron threads (optional; see Notes)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium-size white or yellow onion, finely chopped

1 1⁄2 cups Arborio rice (see Notes)

1 medium-size plum tomato, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound raw scallops and/or peeled shrimp and/or squid, cut into 1-inch chunks

Chopped fresh parsley and lemon wedges, for garnish 

Make the dish 

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F with one rack in the middle. 

2. In the skillet over medium heat, warm up about 1/2 cup of the broth to about 120°F (the temperature of hot tap water) for about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste with the warm broth and saffron. Allow the mixture to stand. (This allows the color and flavor of the saffron to be more evenly distributed when it’s added to the rest of the broth and the rice. If you’re not using the saffron, don’t skip this step; it also helps the tomato paste disperse evenly in the skillet.)

3. Turn the heat to medium high, add the olive oil to the skillet, and allow it to heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns shiny, about 2 minutes.

5. Taking care because the skillet is hot (and the liquid may bubble and spit), add all of the broth to the skillet, including the warmed broth with the saffron, followed by the tomato.

6. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir, then taste to check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as necessary.

7. Stir in the seafood, then place the skillet in the oven.

8. Bake until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

9. Remove the skillet from the oven and serve the paella hot, garnished with parsley and lemon wedges. Leftovers can be refrigerated in a covered container for 1 day. 

Cookbook author’s kitchen notes 

Saffron is expensive, yes, but also irreplaceable—and note how little is required. A small vial will carry you through quite a few recipes. What you’re buying are the hand-harvested stigmas of a crocus flower, which lends not only a bright yellow color to the dish but also an almost sweet, floral background note that might be compared very roughly to a cup of Earl Grey tea. It can be added to rice dishes, stews, and soups. 

Arborio rice is not the traditional rice for paella—but neither is a cast-iron skillet the traditional vessel. Arborio does share an important trait with the bomba variety of rice typically used, in that it will stay distinct and not turn to mush, even as it absorbs the liquid around it.

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