One of the most memorable dishes we enjoyed on our trip to Portugal last year was this gorgeous arroz de mariscos (dotted with piri-piri sauce), at a seaside restaurant in the town of Cascais. We were hungry, the view was phenomenal, and the dish was just brilliant. I would never have guessed that a relatively simple sounding soupy rice dish (though redolent with the best of catch of the sea when it arrived at our table) would figure as one of my all-time trip favorites.
While we only ordered a serving “good for 2”, the three of us had a hard time finishing 80% of the generous serving. And I noted that it arrived looking almost as though it were a thick soup, or a stew. This was definitely not paella, definitely not risotto, and yet had the best of both of those other dishes in it…
I had looked up various recipes, none of which would seem to yield what I was looking for, and in fact my first attempt at the dish was a bust. So this time around, I decided to just go with my instincts. First, I made two broths… one with bisugo (red mullet) and aromatics for a flavorful fish broth. Next, I made a shrimp broth. But not just shells thrown into a pot of water and boiled. Here, I sautéed shrimp shells and heads in some butter, then deglazed the pot with some white wine and after the alcohol had burned off, added water to make one of the best looking and tasting shrimp broths I have made in recent memory. I used a chinois (no, that’s not a person, silly) to strain the solids out. The broth/s are ESSENTIAL to this dish, and if you don’t make them from scratch or with great care, I think you are making a mistake. I suspect for the restaurant’s version, they had a nice mixed seafood/shellfish broth from all the trimmings in the kitchen.
So into a large enameled pot I added olive oil and sautéed some chopped onions and some garlic. I added some of my sofritto for my basic paella and some saffron (I am pretty sure the original dish didn’t have saffron so you can skip this) as well. Then 2.5x the amount of water as the rice (7.5 cups for 3.0 cups of rice for example) and let this come to a boil. I then added arborio rice and swished it around every once in a while. Watch the absorption of broth and be prepared to add up to a cup or so more broth. When it’s about 15 minutes into the cooking, add the seafood (use LOTS to approximate the dish up top) and continue until the rice is cooked but the dish is still slightly soupy. Season all along with salt (lots) and pepper if you desire. This version was rich and delicious and almost heady with seafood essence from the broth to the actual seafood. In fact, I may have gone a bit OTT, and could pull back next time, as sometimes, just sometimes, too much is too much. :)
Another favorite from that Portugal trip were these amazingly bright red (prior to cooking and also after cooking) shrimp/prawns that were done so simply with just olive oil and garlic.
They were wickedly overpriced, but since I doubt we will ever return to this particular area more than once or twice for the rest of our lives, we ordered them anyway. And they were worth every euro. :)