There are as many versions of a paella as there are chefs and families living alongside the Mediterranean coast of Spain. However, the one thing there seems to be little discussion about is that in order to achieve a great paella rice, the better the stock, the greater the dish.
Together with the actual cooking of the rice, making the best possible stock is the single most important step when making any paella recipe; whether this is seafood paella, ‘arroz negro’ (black paella), ‘fideuà’ or ‘arroz a banda’.
The reason is that all the paellas are made with short-grain rice varieties, such as the bomba or the japonica. The great thing about these varieties is that they’re able to absorb plenty of the cooking liquid without overcooking. And of course, that means they’re able to absorb the flavour from that liquid too. That’s why making an effort to prepare a good fish stock is so important when cooking a paella. Because when you eat the rice, most of its flavour will be coming from the fish stock.
There are a million different ways to prepare a good ‘fumet’ (fish stock). However they all share the same principles and at the end, it all comes to your personal preference of how you like your paella rice. This one here is my own recipe. I like my rice to have bold and intense flavours. I love it when you bite the rice and you taste a bit of the sea in your mouth.
And yes, this recipe takes a little bit longer and some few more ingredients to prepare than a standard fish stock. But go through the effort once and I can promise that you won’t look back ever again.
- 1 kg Rock fish – such as mullet, scorpion fish or gurnard
- 100 g King prawns – heads only
- 2 Carrot – whole
- 2 Leek – whole
- 1 Garlic – whole
- 1 stick Celery – whole
- 1 White Onion – whole
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1 sprig Fresh parsley
- 1 tsp Black peppercorns
- 1 tsp Salt
- 4 litres Water – cold
- 4 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
- 150 ml White wine
- 1 Star anise
- 2 stocks Dried fennel
- Wash the fish thoroughly under the tap to remove any blood that might turn our stock bitter. Pat dry and keep aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan until smoking-hot. Add the prawn heads and crush them with the help of a potato masher, squeezing out any bits from inside the heads. Cook for a minute and then turn the heat down.
- Add the carrots, leeks, celery, garlic and onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes over a low heat until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the fish and cook until lightly browned.
- Pour the white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping any bits on the bottom with a spatula. Reduce until all the alcohol has evaporated.
- Cover with the cold water. Add the bay leaves. Bring to boil, then cook for 20 minutes over a low to medium heat. Keep skimming off any foam rising to the surface.
- Take off the heat and strain the stock.
- Add the peppercorns, the fresh parsley, the dried fennel stalks and the star anise. Let the stock infuse for 30 minutes off the heat.
- Strain once again, season to taste and allow to cool.
This stock will keep in the fridge for three days. You can also freeze it if you’re not planning on using it all. I usually freeze it in small plastic glasses of around 200 ml each. This way I can use individual portions as and when I need them.