Seafood Paella is packed with mussels and shrimp, nestled in a flavorful rice made with tomatoes and saffron. It’s a beautiful dish for a special occasion or a dinner party, or even a cozy night at home!
This Seafood Paella is modeled after the paella that I ate in Seville, Spain. I studied there in college, and my host family would make a huge pan of paella for special occasions.
In Spain, they use head-on shrimp, but we’ll stick with shrimp (head removed) and mussels for this version. The seafood sits atop a tomato-flavored rice, made with onions, garlic, paprika, and saffron threads.
I’ve served this recipe for New Year’s Eve with friends and dinner parties, and it’s always a hit! Beforehand, I make sure that my guests like seafood and/or aren’t allergic to it. In the event that seafood doesn’t work, I’ll make a meat version of this recipe, or a vegetarian version. See the recipe notes below for how to adapt the recipe for meat lovers or vegetarians.
How to store mussels
Purchase mussels on the day that you want to use them. Remove them from the packaging as soon as you arrive at home (some grocery stores package them in a non-breathable container), and place them in a bowl in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to cook them, some may have opened. Give the open mussels a tap on the kitchen counter and wait for them to close. If they don’t close, discard them. Mussels that don’t close after tapping are dead, and should not be consumed.
Give the closed mussels a quick soak in a bowl of cold water to loosen the sand and dirt, drain, and then they’re ready to be cooked.
Where to find paella rice
Paella rice is a short grained rice, which you can buy at some international specialty food markets or online. It maintains just a hint of chewiness when cooked, similar to the rice used for risotto. I used Matiz brand Paella rice, which I found on Amazon.
You can substitute arborio rice or carnaroli rice if you can’t find paella rice.
- Shrimp and mussels are the stars of this seafood paella.
- Paella rice is a short-grain rice. If you can’t find it, substitute arborio rice.
- Onion, garlic, and tomatoes get blended together to create a rich broth to cook the rice.
- Stock adds even more flavor—I used seafood stock for this. You can substitute vegetable or chicken stock if you’d like.
- Saffron is classic in paella. I also added paprika.
- I used piparra peppers for garnish. They add a pop of color and guests love plucking them off and eating them!
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add one roughly chopped onion and three roughly chopped roma tomatoes, and cook until soft. Add 3 cloves of roughly chopped garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.
Then place the onion, tomatoes, and garlic in a blender. Remove the middle portion of the blender lid to allow steam to escape, and cover the hole with a dish towel. Place your hand over the dish towel so it stays in place. Blend for 30 seconds, or until smooth.
Transfer the tomato mixture back to the pan and add the stock, paprika, saffron, salt, and rice. Allow to cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, follow the instructions above for making sure the mussels are fresh.
When the liquid is almost absorbed by the rice, stir in the shrimp. Drain the mussels and lay them on top of the rice. Cover the skillet with aluminum foil and allow to cook for 4–5 minutes, or until the mussels open.
Place the piparra peppers on top of the paella and serve immediately.
For seafood paella, use a mixture of clams, mussels, and shrimp.
For a vegetarian paella, stir in artichoke hearts (from a can, rinsed and drained, and roughly chopped), chopped roasted red peppers, and cooked green beans.
For a meat paella, use boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut into pieces) and sliced chorizo. See the notes section of the recipe below for tips on how to incorporate meat.
If you’d like to add a little smokiness to the dish, use a smoked paprika instead of regular paprika.
Smoked paprika is also amazing on roasted potatoes or a roasted chicken for future uses.
What to serve with paella
Big hunks of crusty bread are the perfect pairing for paella. You can also serve a big green salad, and to drink—sangria, of course!
Before dinner, I put out small bowls of Spanish olives and additional piparra peppers for my guests to nibble on while the paella cooks.
This dish is a show-stopper, so I make sure the presentation is part of dinner. I bring the whole pan to the table, as they do in Spain, and then dish it out from there.
- 1 large Spanish onion, roughly chopped
- 3 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups chicken stock or seafood stock
- ¾ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2½ cups paella or risotto rice
- ½ lb mussels
- 8 jumbo shrimp, shell-on if desired
- 8–10 piparra peppers
- Heat olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and tomatoes. Cook for 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and very soft. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Transfer the mixture to a blender. Remove the middle portion of the blender lid to allow steam to escape, and cover the hole with a dish towel. Blend at medium speed for 30 seconds, until the mixture is mostly smooth.
- Transfer the tomato mixture back to the pan and add the stock, paprika, saffron, salt, and rice. Allow to cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, inspect the mussels. If any are open, tap them gently against a countertop and wait for them to close. If any do not close, discard them.
- Place the closed mussels in a bowl of cool water and let sit for 10 minutes to allow any dirt or sand to release to the bottom of the bowl.
- When the liquid is almost absorbed by the rice, stir in the shrimp. Drain the mussels and lay them on top of the rice.
- Cover the skillet with aluminum foil and allow to cook for 4–5 minutes, or until the mussels open.
- Arrange piparra peppers over the top and serve.