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Seafood Paella

Seafood Paella excerpted from The Simple Art of Rice by JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff.

Any small clams work well in it. Littlenecks will need a little more time to open than the mussels, so put them in the pan first. If you are using Manila clams or cockles, add them along with mussels. If your pan isn’t wide enough to hold all the shellfish at once, you may need to cook some of the clams or mussels separately. Put them in a skillet with a little water over medium heat, and cover with a lid. When they are open, arrange them on top of the finished paella. The lobster, while not essential, adds a decadent flourish. The lobster tails need to be precooked, so you can remove the meat from the shells; then it is added at the very end and just heated through. Traditional paella pans have a wide cooking surface and are made of carbon steel or cast iron for even heat. In Spain, when cooking for a crowd, a giant paella pan is rotated over the burner or outdoors over an open fire. I’ve improvised with a large, deep cast-iron chicken fryer, but you could also try a wide-bottomed cast-iron Dutch oven.

Seafood Paella excerpted from The Simple Art of Rice by JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff.

Seafood Paella

JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff
Use a tight-fitting lid for your pan to trap the heat and steam that will help the shellfish open. If necessary, you can improvise a foil lid, carefully crimping the edges for a tight seal. A test of the cook’s skill is forming the crispy bottom crust called a soccarat, which is scraped off and devoured by eager guests. It’s a tricky business when you are also cooking shellfish on top of it, and even in Spain it’s hit or miss. If you don’t succeed, no worries—it’s delicious without it. Though lemon is the traditional garnish, my grandma served her paella with limes and that’s the way I still enjoy it.
Cook Time 50 minutes
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Spanish
Servings 4 -6 people


  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, diced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 2 cups medium-grain Spanish white rice, such as Bomba
  • Kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón de la Vera)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed 
  • 1 15-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 6-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced into strips
  • 4 cups seafood stock or bottled clam juice or lobster stock, warmed
  • 1 pound very small littleneck or other small clams, scrubbed
  • 1 pound mussels, rinsed and beards removed
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 cooked lobster tails, shells removed and roughly chopped into chunks (optional) 
  • Lemon wedges


  • In a 15-inch paella pan, large, deep cast-iron skillet, chicken fryer, or Dutch oven warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice, 1 teaspoon salt, and the smoked paprika and cook, stirring, to slightly toast the rice, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Bring the stock to a boil and stir the saffron into it. Stir the tomatoes, half the drained roasted red peppers, and the stock into the rice mixture, spreading the rice out evenly in the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook over medium heat, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Do not stir the rice after this.
  • If using littleneck clams, arrange them around the edges of the skillet, spacing them evenly. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or with foil, sealing it tightly, and cook for 2 minutes.
  • If using smaller clams, working from the outside of the skillet in, arrange the mussels between the clams around the edge of the pan and the rest in a ring inside them, followed by the shrimp. Sprinkle the seafood with 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer (without stirring) for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the clams and mussels have begun to open. Arrange the lobster, if desired, in the center of the pan, cover, and cook until the lobster is heated through and the clams and mussels are fully open, about 5 more minutes. Discard any clams or mussels that don’t open. Turn off the heat and let the paella rest on the burner for 8 minutes to set it.
  • Decorate with the remaining sliced roasted red peppers. Arrange any separately cooked seafood over the top and serve from the pan with lemon wedges on the side.


Recipe reprinted with permission from The Simple Art of Rice by JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff (Flatiron Books, 2023). Photography by Beatriz da Costa.
Keyword Danica Novgorodoff, JJ Johnson, littleneck, Lobster tails, Mussels, Paprika, Rice, Saffron, seafood stock, Shrimp, The Simple Art of Rice

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