This saffron-infused easy seafood paella with shrimp and lobster is a simpler take on the traditional beloved Spanish dish with fewer ingredients and no special pan. It will deliver the WOW factor on all level, but you don't need to wait for a special occasion to make it!
This is my personal take on this dish and is different from the traditional, but it offers a few easy tips for the home cook (be sure to check out the tips and video below)
What is Paella?
There are many theories about the origins of this delicious and comforting Spanish rice dish.
According to this History of Paella article, paella combines the Roman and Arabic cultures as Arab conquerors introduced rice in Valencia. The word "paella," may have stemmed from the Arabic word "baquia," which simply means "leftovers." And it is said that this meal was introduced by Valencia farm workers as the delicious solution to leftovers. Basically, a one-pot rice meal embellished with whatever ingredients one had on hand. And that's why, it makes perfect sense that there are many variations of it today.
In an article by The Guardian, Valencian chef Llorenç Millo is quoted saying, "paella has as many recipes as there are villages, and nearly as many as there are cooks." To me, that makes it one of the most exciting and inviting dishes.
And I'll say right off the bat, this seafood paella recipe is my own pared down version, prepared as an easy weeknight solution that does not require a special fire nor a special pan.
What is in paella?
The question that continues to be hotly debated even throughout Spain is: what's in it?
Historically, in Valencia, this dish would have incorporated things like chicken thighs, rabbit, snails and beans (about three kinds of fresh beans). But, as mentioned earlier, paella is the mother of leftover solutions and one-pot meals, and the ingredients will vary from place to place, depending on the traditions and what ingredients are available. Nowadays, particularly in the States, paella is almost always associated with seafood.
But, two ingredients are constant:
- Spanish saffron (affiliate link). I know it's expensive but, thankfully, we need just a little bit for this recipe, so you'll have some left for more meals
- Rice. Rice is the single most essential ingredient that makes this dish so comforting and satisfying! But what rice to use can be a tricky choice...
What kind of rice to use?
When you cook paella rice, you're looking for the end result to be dry, separated rice and not something like a creamy risotto or a sticky rice like you would eat at a Chinese restaurant. That's why, your choice of rice here is important.
The best rice option to use when making this dish is a medium-grain rice that can absorb the liquid while maintaining some bite and firmness. Round Spanish rice could be hard to find, but something like Goya medium grain rice (affiliate link) will work. Long-grain rice is not a good option here.
I take comfort in that paella is one dish you can make your own.
In this easy seafood paella, I kept the ingredient list short, focusing on two seafood options: shrimp and lobster. If either is not available to you, feel free to get creative using a firm fish or some mussels or clams. I did not add any chicken or chorizo, but again, if that is something you are looking for, feel free to adapt this recipe (see section below called "variations").
And while, traditionally, this dish is cooked over open fire made of tree prunings, this easy, home-cooked version is simply cooked on the stovetop.
Can you use a wok to make paella? What pan is best?
The important thing is that the skillet you use has a large and even surface, which aids in cooking the rice properly and quickly. That's why a round-bottomed wok is not a good choice for making paella. It's not impossible, but if you're new to making this, you would have better results using a carbon steel pan or a cast iron skillet, which is what I used in this recipe.
How to make Paella: step-by-step
1- The first step here is to get the lobster cooking in boiling water. This will be quick, about 1 to 2 minutes. You don't want to overcook the lobster, but you're looking for it to turn a nice pink. When the lobster is cool enough to handle, remove the shell and cut into large chunks to use later. Important: keep the lobster water for later use.
2. I like to soak the paella rice in water a few minutes (15 to 20 minutes or so) before using, this helps it cook evenly. Then, to begin making the paella, heat 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium-high (making sure it's shimmering but not smoking.) Saute chopped onions first for a couple minutes, then add the rice (drain first).
Cook the rice for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Yes, I am aware that in some recipes you are almost "forbidden" from stirring the rice. But it worked best for me this way. Grateful to Bobby Flay for this tip.
3. b) Stir in the chopped tomato and green beans. Bring to a boil and let the liquid reduce, then cover (with lid or tightly with foil) and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
4- Now, we add the shrimp over the rice, pushing it into the rice a little. At this point, if the rice looks to be too dry and might need a tiny bit of water, you can carefully add some. Cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the shrimp turns pink.
4- b) Finally, add the cooked lobster chunks. When the lobster is warmed through, turn heat off. Garnish with parsley, if you like.
How to serve it?
Traditions aside, in my house, we serve paella family-style with a favorite white wine or a bit of sangria to go along. Of course, adding a little something to start the meal like chilled tomato Gazpacho is always an option. To finish, try Crema Catalana, Spain's version of crème brûlée.
- To add Chorizo: dried Spanish chorizo makes a good addition, and you can add them early on in the recipe to get the most flavor. Slice chorizo into thin half-moons and, once you've sauteed the onions, add the chorizo and give it a quick cook until it crisps a little, then continue on by adding the garlic, lobster cooking water etc.
- To add shellfish such as clams or mussels, nestle well-cleaned clams or mussels into the rice at the same time you add the shrimp, making sure the hinge sides are up so they release juices into the rice. Cover and cook until clams and mussels are open (about 6 to 10 minutes.) For more tips on how to buy, store and clean mussels, be sure to check out my Steamed Mussels recipe.
- To add fish. I've been asked if adding fish fillets is an option. If you're going for a thinner fish like sole fillet, you can cut it up into pieces and add it at the same time you add the shrimp. Make sure you give the fish a little seasoning. Again, you'll cover and cook a few minutes until shrimp turns pink and your fish is nice and flaky.
Watch the video tutorial for this easy seafood paella recipe:
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Easy saffron-infused seafood paella recipe with lobster and shrimp! No need for a special paella pan, a large sturdy skillet like cast iron will work well. Be sure to see the tips for best results. Watch the video and step-by-step tutorial above.
- 4 small lobster tails (6-12 oz each)
- 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used Private Reserve)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups Spanish rice or medium-grain rice, soaked in water for 20 minutes and then drained
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 large pinches of Spanish saffron threads soaked in ½ cup water
- 1 tsp Sweet Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp chile pepper flakes (I used aleppo pepper)
- 2 large Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
- 6 oz French green beans, trimmed
- 1 lb prawns or large shrimp or your choice, peeled and deveined
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- In a large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add the lobster tails and let boil very briefly (1-2 minutes) until pink. Turn the heat off. Remove the lobster tails with a pair of tongs. Do not discard the lobster cooking water. When the lobster is cool enough to handle, remove the shell and cut into large chunks.
- In a large deep pan or cast iron skillet, heat 3 tablespoon olive oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the chopped onions. Saute the onions for 2 minutes then add the rice, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring regularly. Now add the chopped garlic and the lobster cooking water. Stir in the saffron and it's soaking liquid, paprika, cayenne pepper, aleppo pepper, and salt. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and green beans. Bring to a boil and let the liquid slightly reduce, then cover (with lid or tightly with foil) and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
- Uncover and spread the shrimp over the rice, pushing it into the rice slightly. Add a little water if needed. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Finally, add the cooked lobster chunks. When the lobster is warmed through, turn heat off. Garnish with parsley.
- Serve the paella hot with your favorite white wine.
- Pro-Tip: Depending on the kind of rice you use, you may or not need to soak it in water before cooking. I have found that soaking rice in water for 15 minutes or so (until you are able to easily break a grain of rice between your thumb and index finger) helps speed the cooking process. When you do this, you naturally use less cooking water. The rice cooks evenly and more quickly.
- Pro-Tip: In some paella recipes, you are almost "forbidden" from stirring the rice early in the cooking process. But it worked best for me this way. Grateful to Bobby Flay for this tip.
- To add Chorizo: dried Spanish chorizo makes a good addition. Slice it into thin half-moons and once you've sauteed the onions (step #2), add the chorizo and give it a quick cook until it crisps a little, then continue on with the recipe.
- To add shellfish such as clams or mussels: nestle well-cleaned clams or mussels into the rice at the same time you add the shrimp (step #3), making sure the hinge sides are up so they release juices into the rice. Cover and cook until clams and mussels are open and shrimp turns pink.
- To add fish: I've been asked if adding fish fillets is an option. If you're going for a thinner white fish like sole fillet, you can cut it up into pieces and add it at the same time you add the shrimp (step #3). Make sure you give the fish a little seasoning. Again, you'll cover and cook a few minutes until shrimp turns pink and your fish is nice and flaky.
- Visit Our Shop to browse quality ingredients including olive oils and spices used in this recipe.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 40 mins
- Category: Entree
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Mediterranean/Spanish
Keywords: Paella, Seafood Paella, Easy Paella Recipe
*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2015, and it has recently been updated with new information and media for readers' benefit.