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Seafood Paella from Vaca

Step into the kitchen at Vaca – the most anticipated Orange County restaurant in years – and you’ll see that chef Amar Santana takes his stock very seriously. Two enormous pots boil side by side. One is filled with giant beef and veal femurs; the other is piled high with lobster bodies and fish bones. They simmer for hours – percolating, developing flavor, steadily evolving with each carrot top or nub of onion that a line cook tosses in.

These two pots are the secret to Santana’s duo of paellas (seafood and
“meat lover’s”). On the surface, both dishes are a departure for Santana.At Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach he’s known for stylish plating, and these paellas are rustic-looking. But behind the chef’s flashy presentation is a commitment to fully developed flavors, which a deep, rich, savory stock provides.

Santana’s seafood paella reveals another savvy chef trick. The trouble with the dish – even in Spain – is that seafood proteins cook at widely varying rates.  You end up with dry fish and mushy shrimp. Santana’s method is to cook the proteins separately to 75 percent, then finish them together in a convection oven. The flavors still marry, but nothing feels over-done (the worst thing imaginable with seafood).

Vaca has a great location, a newly famous chef (via TV’s “Top Chef”) and a huge buzz. But it’s these smaller, less readily apparent touches that make the restaurant special.
Vaca, 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714.463.6060 :: vacarestaurant.com

Shellfish stock for the home cook from Chef Amar Santana

2 tablespoon olive oil
Shells from 1 pound large shrimp
Shells from 2 lobsters
1 lb. white fish bones
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
2 heads of fennel chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 pinch of saffron
1 gallon of water
2 cups good white wine
1 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme, including stems
6 sprigs of tarragon
2 tablespoon fermented roasted shrimp paste

Warm the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the shrimp and lobster shells, onions, fennel, carrots, and celery and sauté for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook two more minutes. Add 1 gallon of water, the white wine, tomato paste, salt, pepper, tarragon, saffron and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, add fish bones, shrimp paste and simmer for 1 hour. Strain through a sieve, pressing the solids. You should have approximately 2 quarts of stock. Use stock to make paella or seafood stew. Leftover stock may be frozen.


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