Chef Poptart: Portuguese Páscoa Paelha Pandemonium

As you may have gathered, Squirrel comes from Portuguese descent and loves every culinary minute of it. The same goes for me, Poptart; Squirrel and I are family. Brothers from another mother, if you will. Both mothers are Portuguese and think you look skinny. Seriously. Eat something.

If you come over to a Portuguese person’s home, and they haven’t tried to stuff your face with food, snacks, and booze, then most likely you’ve wandered into some sort of Twilight Zone. I suggest you bend over, grab your ankles, and wait for the wormhole to take you back to your normal dimension of choice.

If you’re lucky, the Twilight Zone hasn’t befallen you, and you’ve been lucky enough to wander into a proper Portuguese gluttony fest. I just hope you’re hungry. God forbid you don’t eat; I’m pretty sure that counts as the 8th Deadly Sin if you don’t gorge. If you’ve managed to come over during a holiday meal, then I hope you haven’t eaten in several days. I believe the Portuguese word for “holiday” actually derives from the ancient Latin words for “Eat until your pants violently burst off your waist.” True story.

Portuguese Paelha differs from its Spanish relative Paella in that the Portuguese version is all seafood all the time. There are some versions which add sausage or chicken, but the main focus is always seafood. The version we make takes clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, and shrimp. A small ecosystem must die to satiate the needs of this dish; its a delicious price to pay.

Paelha is one of those dishes my mom does for big events and holidays. If a lot of people are coming over to eat, this is one of her favorite things to do. Its actually pretty simple to make. You boil a lot of seafood, cook rice with seafood stock and saffron, combine together, and add garnish. Simple right? Well we had a lot of people coming over, and I had a hankering for seafood at our Easter party, so I dove right into my first Paelha.

The results were great! I opted to use whole lobsters instead of lobster tails (that option tends to be a little cheaper, and using the lobster bodies as presentation was pretty awesome to look at). None of the seafood overcooked, and I managed to have most of everything finish cooking around the same time so that everything was combined all at once and it hit the table super fresh. Cheers folks, and happy cooking - may the lobster be with you.

Serves about 10 people.

Portuguese Páscoa Paelha Pandemonium

5 lobster tails (or 3+ full lobsters - with full lobster, you have to cook them like the clams and mussels beforehand and also save that water)
3-4 lbs shrimp (more the merrier)
1 lb large scallops
18 clams
18 mussels
4-5 cups rice
bijol (possibly found in a latino market) or saffron
1 large onion, or 2 smaller onions - diced
lots of garlic - diced
olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
3 bay leaves

Garnish (optional)

canned peas
roast red pepper slices

Prepare the seafood. Put clams and mussels into ice water for about an hour (separate containers). Clean shells. If using just the lobster tails, cut lobster tails lengthwise. Peel shrimp.

Steep the saffron in warm water (if you’re not using bijol)

All the seafood can be boiled in the same pot/water, but it will take more time. Boil clams until they open (save water). Boil mussels until they open (save water). If using whole lobsters - boil the lobsters (save water).

Once cooked, separate the tails and cut lengthwise, remove the legs and claws. The main body of the lobster isn’t great to eat, but it makes a great decoration, so save’em. Strain the water from lobster, clam, and mussels. (I actually skipped this step)

Prepare the rice. Dice half the onion, and cook in olive oil until golden. Add garlic, tobasco, bijol/saffron, water from lobster, mussels, and clams, salt to taste. Add the rice.

While rice is cooking, dice the rest of the onion, put in main paella pan with olive oil. Cook until golden. Add bay leaf, parsley, bijol/saffron, garlic, white wine.

Let simmer for about 5-10 minutes. If using just lobster tails, add lobster tails to main paella pan for about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and scallops 5-10 minutes. Add the rest of the seafood to the main pan. Add some clams/mussels water to keep everything from dying out if needed.

Wait for guests to arrive.

When ready to serve, mix in the rice. Add garnish.