A perfect plunk-down-the-pan-and-dig-in party dish, paella is impressive and celebratory, and its rich, complex flavors belie its mostly healthy ingredients. It’s also naturally gluten free. Easier to make than you think, it begs be shared with a group of friends and a bottle or two of red. Also, while the sauce you cook the rice in takes some time to make, this recipe makes enough for two paella feasts, so freeze the extra sauce in a covered container and you can effortlessly satisfy a future paella craving.
Seafood Paella with Baby Back Riblets
You won't find a better paella recipe out there. The secret is the baby back ribs; cooked in the paella "broth," they add rich flavor to an already exceptional dish. Note: this recipe calls for ribs that are halved widthwise to make little short riblets. If you don't have a butcher to slice them for you, you can simply use longer riblets. Want it vegan? Skip the chorizo, swap in vegetable broth for chicken broth, add more salt if necessary to create a flavorful broth, and use chopped veggies like broccoli, green beans, and red peppers instead of meat and seafood. Regardless, this dish makes awesome leftovers; just be sure to eat any shellfish within 24 hours–and to always keep leftovers refrigerated until you reheat them.
For the Broth:
- 7 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, minced, plus 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 yellow bell pepper diced
- 1/2 green bell pepper diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large celery stalk diced
- 1 medium carrot diced
- 1 cup (about 10 ounces) canned diced tomatoes
- 7 cups chicken stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Paella:
- 1/2 rack baby back ribs cut crosswise to make shorter ribs (ask your butcher to do this) then cut into individual riblets
- 1 1/2 cups short-grain Spanish paella rice
- 3 ounces dried hard chorizo casing removed and discarded, diced (about 1/2 cup total)
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 12 shrimp peeled and deveined
- 12 clams scrubbed
- 12 mussels scrubbed
Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, onion, and saffron. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, bay leaves, celery, and carrot. Cook to soften, stirring often to avoid browning, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves, then blend in batches in a blender until smooth, adding more salt to taste if necessary; set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, and brown the ribs on both top and bottom, about 4 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan to drain on a paper towel.
In a medium pot over medium heat, bring 4 cups of the blended sauce to a simmer. Add the ribs and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the ribs from the sauce, reserving the ribs and sauce.
Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven, and preheat the oven to 450°F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a paella pan, large cast-iron skillet, or other oven-safe pan over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of garlic to the oil, and remove pan from the heat. Add the rice, stir to coat every grain with oil, and spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Scatter the chorizo, peas, and ribs over the rice. Pour 3-1/2 cups of the paella sauce over the rice and toppings. Place the paella pan in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 15 minutes without stirring. Scatter the shellfish over the top and bake for 15 minutes more or until the shrimp is just cooked through, the clams and mussels have opened, and the rice is soft but still the slightest bit toothsome. Serve immediately.
Photo Maren Caruso