Two years ago we drove off to Portugal to make our way from North to South. As with all journeys, there’s so many memories you take back with you, some about the places you visit themselves, others about the people you meet on the way, or about particular traditions…but since I always make a special place for the gastronomy part in our trips, there’s always something food-related I take back with me. Be it a dish, a cooking technique, an ingredient or utensil that strikes me. Sometimes that “something” is just interesting, but other times… it is just unforgettable!
This is one of these unforgettable memories! At the end of our trip, we went to a fishers’ town named Olhâo because that week it was the “Festival do Marisco” (seafood festival) which we read was worth the visit. But, precisely for that reason, there was not a room available in town! So we ended up in Tavira, also a former fishers’ town, but much more picturesque, a bit more than 20 km away. From there, one day we went to the Seafood fair, with great expectations…But it ended up being not worth the high entrance fee!! We felt cheated with the little variety of seafood offered and ridiculously overpriced.
So, having arranged our stay just to go there, we were terribly disappointed until…the next day we had our dinner at Restaurante Avenida in Tavira. We had tried “arroz de marisco” or “ arroz marinheiro” before (even in the restaurant of a fish market) but nothing like the one we were served there that day! If I were to translate it into english, I’d write “out of this world creamy seafood rice”. Just to tell you that we weren’t really hungry and after finishing the huge casserole “for two” (when in Portugal they say for 2, it serves 4!!!) we considered asking for another one! Honestly!!It was that good!!
That taste has stayed with me until a year later it hit me that I had to learn how to make it! I searched the web for any reliable recipes but didn’t find anything that reminded me of that one. So, with the basic ingredients in mind, and looking at the lame photos I’d taken, I had a go at it…What a surprise when the result was just as I remembered! I wouldn’t dare say better or worse, but to us, it was just perfect! I took good note on how I did it and have made it quite a few times since, and always results in that tasty super rich seafood rice I have in mind from Tavira. I hope you try it and like it as much as we do! Bom proveito!
Arroz marinheiro Tavira (creamy seafood rice)
(serves 4 people as a single dish)
For the stock
~1200ml of Water
~250g of monkfish head bones (they are like osso bucco filled with gelatin)
or monkfish cheek meat
For the “sofrito”
generous Olive oil (extra virgin) to cover the surface of the pan
1 small onion
1/4 of a green pepper
1/4 of a red pepper
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp hot paprika (pimentón picante)
~450g of ripe tomatoes (or 350g of pureed and strained tomatoes)
Freshly milled black pepper and salt
For the rice
~ 300g of fresh (live) mussels
~200g of clams
~150g of whole baby squid (chipirones) or squid or sepia
~150g of small tiger prawns (or any prawn, ideally not too small, you can find)
a squeeze of lemon juice
Fresh coriander (3 or 4 stems with leaves)
300g of rice (I used “calasparra”, use varieties such as arborio of
carnaroli that absorb the tasty stock and thicken it at the same time. Do
not use Bomba or varieties that do not absorb the taste in a liquid medium)
First, place your clams in a bowl and cover them with salted water so they release any sand inside them. They will need at least 30 minutes, the time it will take you to prepare the rest…
Start by preparing your stock. Just cover the washed monkfish bones with the water and slowly bring to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling reduce to a slow simmer and remove all the foam on top, and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes. Then, strain into another pan and set the bones aside if you will want to add them to your rice (they are delicious!!). If you use monkfish cheeks, they will be ready as soon as your fumet boils, they need no further cooking, so strain then. Do not clean up the strainer or the pot yet, as you will still use them.
Next, we prepare each of the different seafood. For the mussels, first remove any which are dead. To start, this means all those that are open and if you press them they do not close up. Clean up the shells with the back of a knife and remove the “beards” pulling them out. Place them in a small pan (the same one you used for the stock will do, so like I sais, no need to clean, just give it a quick water wash) add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little bit of coriander.
Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. No need to add water, as the mussels as they cook will give off a lot of water. Cook for about 5 minutes and check that all shells have opened, if not give them a bit more time. Then, those which you are not able to open, discard as well. Strain the resulting stock into the pan with monkfish stock and remove & discard the side of the shell which is not attached to the mussel muscle!
As you can see from the photo, these mussels are not particularly great, they are very small for the size of the shells. It is past their time! You can tell how each weighs so little for it’s size. In Spain we say, that seafood is best at the months with “R” (that is from September, “septiembre”, up to April, “Abril”, maximum), as most species have their reproductive cycle during march and august and they lose a lot of weight. I’d go further and say that the best time really runs from November to March.
Now we will open our clams in the same way, use the same pan to place them with a bit of water and cover and bring to a boil. These will be done much faster, so as soon as it boils, give the pan a shake and open it. If most are open, it’s ready, if not leave a few seconds more. Remove the closed ones and strain the stock into the stock pan and remove the shell sides not attached to the clam.
Time to clean up the squids…
Remove the outer skin and separate the insides attached to the head and legs from the body. Ideally turn the body, inside out to clean it better, and from the other side take the legs pulling from underneath the eyes (removing the two long ones, which are really reproductive organs) removing the peak in the center. Also, there’s another usable part, which we call the “teeth” which is attached to the rest of the innards. Here’s the squid cleaned up to show the usable parts.
You just need to slice the body, depending on how big it is in 3 or 4 pieces lengthwise, as they will shrink a lot! And time to get started! It is a bit of preparation, I know, I like to do it all myself, if you cannot be bothered, buy all ready to be used, a bit less than the equivalent of clean squid or sepia, frozen or cooked mussels and clams (but you will miss the tasty stock from cooking them). In that case, try to make a tasty stock!
In Valencia, to make their dry rices, as paella, the trick is to fry all you will put in in the oil, before making the sofrito. So, that’s what we’ll do here, as well. This way, you will leave behind all the flavour of grilled squid and prawns, plus they themselves will taste sooo much better than if just added without frying them first! So, in the same pan we will cook our rice (ideally a clay casserole for this dish, but with induction I cannot use it, so any other casserole will do) add a bit of olive oil and preheat well to fry over high heat the prawns first (as they have less water than the squid). Turn on both sides and remove onto a dish.
Add a bit more oil and place the squid over high heat or they will just cook in their juices but without browning (we would miss all those “Maillard Reactions” for the creation of tasty flavour molecules!). Also remove onto a dish.
Now, add enough extra olive oil to cover generously the bottom of the pan to begin the “sofrito”. Slice the onion in julienne and then chop it lengthwise into 3 and begin frying it slowly over medium heat. Cut up the peppers the same way in thin strips lengthwise and then into smaller pieces and add when the onion starts to soften. When they are all softer, add the finely chopped garlic and the stalks of the coriander you will use also finely chopped, and continue cooking for 5 minutes longer without letting the garlic brown.
Meanwhile prepare your tomato puree. Just remove the scar which attaches them to the plant and cut them up and place them in a jug to whiz them with a hand blender and then just strain that into the sofrito directly when ready.
Before you add the tomato, add off the heat the little bit of hot paprika and then strain in the tomato. Add a tsp of sugar if the tomato feels sour and a bit of salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste.
You want the tomato to cook off until all it’s juices are evaporated and it starts separating from the oil. Then, it will be almost caramelised with a sweet taste.
Time to finish off our rice. You could prepare everything up to this stage and then start preparing your rice when you are ready.
Bring to a boil your stock and remove any foam that rises to the surface again (as we added that from the mussels and clams, probably more foam will form). We will be adding 300g of rice for this recipe, so will a tea or coffee cup (or whetever you find convenient) measure how many of those make 300g, as it’s more convenient to measure the stock by volume. You will be using 4X the amount of rice of stock, so if 300g is 2 mugs of rice, add 8 into your “sofrito”.
Bring all that to a boil, season and add your rice. Keep the heat at medium so it simmers instead of boiling vigorously. Add your fish bones if using, but still reserve the meat and rest of seafood to add later. Set your timer to about 15 minutes and then add your fish, prawns and squid, adding in all the lovely juices released!!! Two minutes later add the clams and mussels. Give it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. It will take about 20 minutes in total. Try your rice, it should be almost completely cooked, with a bit of a bite still…it will continue to cook with the residual heat, so turn it off!!!!Otherwise if you continue until it is just ready, it will be a mush in no time!
Also, if you see it is dry, add more stock. In Portugal they make this rice “caldoso”, not like a risotto, but with more stock. I like it creamy, with stock but thickened by the rice, so it has texture. It’s up to you if you like it thicker, that is, creamier, or with more stock.
So, add your chopped coriander to finish and optionally you can add a bit of lemon juice if you like (sometimes I do, others I don’t) and adjust seasonings. Give it two minutes and it should be ready to serve!!!!
I like to serve it on traditional clay pots, and since the rest will continue to cook and absorb liquid, if you are not going to eat it. Cool the pan over the sink filled with iced water to stop the cooking. We are two, so when I make this much, it’s best to do this. Obviously if you are going to serve it all, just take it to the table whole!
Can you see how the stock is not “liquid” but has a texture?
Serve with a cold slightly sparkling vinho verde and enjoy!!