While paella originated in the coastal Valencia region of Spain, a “true” paella Valencia – a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans – has no seafood.
I’ve had some very good paella Valencias over the years, but that is not my favorite.
I prefer paella de mariscos – seafood paella – which I would assert is equally authentic, and today perhaps even more popular. On a recent visit to Malaga, a seaside city about 300 miles south of Valencia, I set out to find the best possible version of this dish.
Needless to say, on a subject like this, there are as many opinions as there are chefs. But a couple of Malaga foodies finally put me on to a family-friendly seafood restaurant named Los Mellizos, and I called for a reservation.
When I proposed dining at 8, the proprietor laughed at me. Come at 8:30, I was told with a chuckle, and you will be the first one seated. Spaniards really do like to dine late! But by 9:30, Los Mellizos was packed.
Before getting to the paella, my companions and I ordered a plate of boquerones vinagre ($13.40) – a delicacy popular throughout the Mediterranean that you do not often find in the United States. These fresh white anchovies are marinated in vinegar, drizzled with the local extra virgin olive oil, and went extremely well with a chilled glass of white wine. A great start.
Then I spotted on the menu almejas ($13.50). Regular readers of this column will know how I love steamed clams with garlic and oil. Well, these tender little beauties were nothing short of spectacular.
Finally it came time for the main event. A companion and I ordered the paella de mariscos ($54 for two), and my husband – not a paella enthusiast – decided to try the dorada ($21.70).
My husband’s fish, grilled with garlic, could not have been fresher.
And the paella de mariscos totally lived up to anticipation, the saffron rice infused with the flavors of the sea and heads-on carabineros – the prized, giant red prawns that reign supreme in the Mediterranean – highlighting a mix of fresh local seafood.
Far too full to even consider dessert, we concluded the evening with perfect espressos.
So was this the ultimate paella de mariscos? Close, but I think I will continue the search for the grail on future travels.
Meantime, if you should make it to the Costa del Sol, there are outposts of Los Mellizos in a couple of neighboring towns to Malaga, as well as one 40 miles down the coast in Marbella. I’m guessing all produce paellas de mariscos that would make them worth a visit.
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Prices shown in dollars are converted from the prices of these dishes in Euros.