This Spanish Seafood Paella is a traditional rice dish filled with shrimp, shellfish, smoked sausage, and colorful veggies. Best of all, this incredible meal is super easy to make at home!
Festive Seafood Paella, Made Easy!
Comforting, healthy, and full of flavor, paella might just be the ultimate seafood dish. Originating in Valencia, Spain, it’s a very old peasant dish that can be made in many different ways depending on the meats and veggies that are in season. But, no matter how you make it, paella almost always features fragrant saffron and tender, short-grain rice, cooked to perfection with plenty of spices and seasonings.
Seafood paella is especially popular stateside, with a medley of delicate favorites like scallops, shrimp, chopped fish, calamari…all-the-yum! My easy at-home version uses shrimp, mussels, and clams, but for substitution ideas, please see the “Tips for Success” section below.
If you feel a little intimidated by making paella, don’t be! This dish is actually pretty simple to make, and comes together all in one skillet (or paella pan, if you have one). But before we begin, let me warn you – you might just be blown away by the absolute deliciousness of this recipe! Let’s dive in – quick, before my mouth starts watering again.
What Does Paella Taste Like?
Great question! Well, there are a few dominant flavors in paella, including the seafood and seafood stock, which add a nice ocean-y freshness; white wine, which gives a bit of depth; saffron, which has a golden, earthy, slightly sweet taste; and of course, the sausage and garlic, for a meaty and robust flavor. In other words? Devastatingly delicious.
The Ingredients You’ll Need
So just what goes into this simple version of paella? Let’s take a closer look! Here’s the full list of ingredients in detail. (For the amounts and nutrition info, see the recipe card at the end of this post. It’s printable!)
- Olive Oil: You can use any good olive oil here.
- Shrimp: I used raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined. You could use smaller shrimp as well, but you’ll need to adjust the cook time so you don’t overcook them.
- Seasonings: Smoked paprika and crumbled saffron threads give the dish a beautiful color and earthy, honey-like note.
- Onion: A small, diced yellow onion is my go-to, but any type of onion is fine.
- Sausage: For a smoky note, slice up some of your favorite smoked pork sausage. Andouille is a great choice. Cut the slices in half to make half-moons.
- Bell Peppers: For extra color, I like to dice up both a red and green pepper, but you can use any color that you prefer.
- Garlic: Mince the garlic cloves, or put them through a garlic press.
- Rice: Short-grain rice like Arborio works well.
- White Wine: Dry white wine gives the rice a beautiful depth of flavor. If you need a substitute, you could use a small amount of white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or just a bit of lemon juice.
- Seafood Stock: Store-bought is fine, or you can make your own. Need an easy substitute? Use bottled clam juice instead. Water it down for a milder seafood taste.
- Clams: I used manila clams, scrubbed and purged (more on this in the “Tips” section).
- Peas: Fresh or frozen green peas add a pop of color and sweetness.
- Mussels: The mussels should be scrubbed, rinsed, and have their beards removed.
- Parsley: Chopped, fresh parsley finishes the dish perfectly.
How to Make It
This recipe is so rewarding to make! There are a few steps and processes involved, but the overall cooking method is easy. Try this one for a fancy occasion or favorite holiday.
- Preheat. Before you begin, make sure to preheat the oven to 375˚F.
- Cook the Shrimp. Next, you need to pre-cook the shrimp. To do this, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in your paella pan or a braiser. You can also use a large 14-inch ovenproof frying pan, like a big cast-iron skillet. Season the shrimp with paprika, salt, and pepper. Add the shrimp to the heated oil, and cook them for about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp from the pan, cover them, and set them aside.
- Cook the Sausage and Aromatics. Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and stir in the diced onions. After a minute or so, add the sausage slices, and let them brown for 2 minutes. Next, add the peppers, and cook them for about five minutes. They should be soft and caramelized. Finally, add the saffron and the garlic, stirring for 20 seconds or so to release their fragrance.
- Add the Rice and Simmer. Now it’s time to add the rice! Don’t rinse the rice, just add it to the skillet, along with some salt and pepper. Saute the rice with the sausage and aromatics for three minutes or so, to toast, stirring often, and then pour in the wine. Deglaze the pan by scraping up all of the browned bits (aka the “fond”) with a wooden spoon, and stir them into the rice mixture. Pour in the seafood stock, bring everything to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the Seafood and Peas. When the five minutes is up, add in the clams, open edges facing up. Turn the heat down to low, and cook for 5 minutes Stir in the peas and mussels, again positioning the shellfish with their open edges facing up. Return the shrimp to the pan as well, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, without stirring.
- Bake. To finish the dish, move the pan to the preheated oven and bake it for 10 minutes, or until clams and mussels have opened up and most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Serve. Take the paella out of the oven and cover it with foil (or a heat-proof lid). Let it stand for 10 minutes before garnishing with parsley and serving.
Preparing the Clams
When it’s time to clean and purge the clams, this basically amounts to two easy steps, but be aware that the purging step takes over an hour. Scrubbing just means using a brush, a clean kitchen towel, or even a sturdy paper towel to rub away any dirt from the clam shells under cold, running water. Don’t use hot water. Purging means soaking the clams in salted water (one gallon of cold water with ⅓ cup salt dissolved in it) for half an hour. You have to repeat this step with a new batch of salted water two or three times to get all the grit and sand out of the clams. This is why I just go straight to the seafood counter and ask them to gimme the cleaned and ready to go mussels and clams. I suggest you do the same. 😊
Prepping the Mussels
Cleaning mussels is a bit easier than cleaning clams – all you have to do is rinse and scrub them well, and then remove any “beards” that they might have – little fuzzy bits clinging to the edge of the shell.
Discard Open Shellfish: Always remember to discard any open or broken clams or mussels, for food safety!
Why is My Paella Mushy?
With rice dishes, especially those that are cooked uncovered, you may sometimes find that the rice cooks up crunchy, or maybe worse – mushy! If your rice is a bit crunchy, you can usually just add a small amount of water (¼ cup to ½ cup is a good place to start) and continue simmering it for another few minutes.
On the other hand, rice usually ends up mushy for one of a few different reasons, the main one being that there’s simply too much liquid, so you’ll want to watch out for that. This can also happen if you cover your rice – covering the rice prevents the water from evaporating and traps all of the moisture in the rice. That’s fine for some recipes, but not paella!
So, be sure to measure the water and rice carefully, and don’t cover it while it cooks. Finally, stirring rice while it cooks can cause it to give up too much starch, creating a sticky, mushy dish. Try not to stir your paella too much once the rice and liquid have been added.
Tips for Success
I hope you’re inspired to try your hand at this savory paella recipe! And as you plan for your grocery list and cooking, take a look at these easy tips and tricks to help you along the way.
- Seafood Substitutes: You can use any seafood that you like in this dish. Shrimp and shellfish are two that I think work really well (and are easy to find), but don’t stop there! Use whatever you like, from chopped fish or lobster, to scallops, calamari, or even oysters.
- Seafood-Free Paella: Not feeling like fish? No problem! Paella is also made without seafood. Chicken, turkey, rabbit, duck, pork… all of the above are delicious in paella, and make a protein-packed meal you won’t soon forget! I recommend using chicken broth instead of seafood broth if you go this route.
- Veggies: While I use bell peppers, onions, garlic, and peas, you can use other things as well. Tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, and artichokes are all great ideas. Make it yours. ❤️
Paella is so, so good, but what if you could serve it with something to make it even better? Look no further! Here’s a list of my favorite side dishes to bring out the best in homemade seafood paella.
- Roasted Parmesan Cauliflower Bites: These Roasted Parmesan Cauliflower Bites are tasty with almost anything (or even by themselves), but with paella, they are truly tasty. Pro tip: serve with a side of cocktail sauce instead of marinara, for a seafood-appropriate kick.
- Easy Roasted Green Beans: Easy Roasted Green Beans are another perfect roasted veggie option – effortless, fresh, and flavorful.
- Pan Roasted Asparagus Almondine: Asparagus goes beautifully with saffron-scented paella, and this Pan Roasted Asparagus Almondine recipe is an easy, classic way to prep it.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
- To store Paella, cover it in plastic wrap or tin foil, or keep it in an airtight container inside the refrigerator. Make sure to use your leftovers within 2 to 3 days.
- To reheat, place the desired portion in a covered skillet, adding a splash of water or broth if it looks dry. Cook on low until heated through, stirring occasionally for even heating. Don’t overcook.
Can I Freeze Paella?
You bet! Keep the paella in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat as described above.
Spanish Seafood Paella
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 8 to 12 ounces raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika, divided
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 6 ounces smoked pork sausage, sliced and cut into half-moons, (I use Andouille sausage)
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons saffron threads, crumbled
- 2 cups short grain rice, I use Arborio Rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups seafood stock
- 1 pound manila clams, scrubbed and purged*
- 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
- 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- Preheat oven to 375˚F.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a paella pan OR in a large 14-inch ovenproof frying pan set over medium-high heat.
- Season shrimp with half the paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and fresh ground black pepper.
- Add shrimp to the heated oil and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, per side, or until no longer pink. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside; keep covered.
- Add remaining olive oil to the pan and stir in diced onions; cook for 1 minute.
- Stir in the sausage slices; cook for 2 minutes, or until sausage starts to brown.
- Stir in the peppers; cook for about 5 minutes, or until soft and caramelized, stirring often.
- Stir in the garlic and saffron and cook for 20 seconds.
- Add rice to the pan, season with remaining salt, a crack of black pepper, and continue to cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Pour in the wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan; cook for about 1 minute.
- Stir in the seafood stock; bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir, and then add in the clams, open edges facing up.
- Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes
- Stir in the peas and mussels, open edges facing up.
- Return shrimp to the pan and continue to cook for 10 minutes, undisturbed.
- Transfer pan to the oven and cook for 10 more minutes, or until clams and mussels have opened up and most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from oven and cover the pan with a lid or foil.
- Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Remove foil, garnish with parsley, and serve.
Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.