Monkfish & mussel paella

by Ed Smith

Borough Market blogger Ed Smith shares a simple sharing dish for Valentine’s Day

Things that can go badly wrong on Valentine’s Day: an unrequited card; an expensive, misjudged gift; a cheap, ill-considered gift; an awkward restaurant full of silent couples eating an overpriced menu; a fussy, tricky, multiple part home cooked dinner, that doesn’t live up to the cook’s expectations and efforts.

I say ditch the card, gift, restaurant booking and complicated shopping list, and cook something simple to share.

You’ll see lots of truffled and champagned risotto recipes at this time of year; ignore them and cook this monkfish and mussel paella instead. You can do the ‘sofrito’ part the evening before, then it’s just a case of pouring stock over rice and letting it cook all the way down for 25 mins.

Eat with a raw fennel salad and a glass or two of cava, dry sherry or something crisp and white.


½ small fennel bulb (80g), diced like an onion
½ green pepper (80g), diced as per the fennel
1 small clove garlic, finely sliced
1 plum tomato, diced as per the fennel
500g fish stock
100g water
3 stems of saffron
1 tsp smoked paprika
6-8 mussels
180g monkfish fillet (ask the fishmonger to fillet it from the tail)
180g short grain Spanish paella rice (calasparra)
150g dry sherry
1 lemon
Sea salt and pepper


First make a ‘sofrito’ from the fennel, pepper, garlic and tomato. In a small saucepan, slowly fry the diced fennel and pepper in a little oil over a low heat for 15 mins. Add a pinch of salt at the start of this and stir occasionally.

After 5 mins, put a lid on the mix, and 5 mins later stir and add the garlic and tomatoes. Cook down for 5 mins more, now with the lid off, until the ‘sofrito’ is sticky and sweet.

Bring the fish stock to the boil. Add the water, saffron and paprika and let this stand for 5 mins while you clean and de-beard the mussels, and slice the monkfish across the fillet into 2cm thick circles.

Now, add 1 tbsp of oil to a 23cm paella or frying pan and put on a low-medium flame. Put the sofrito in the pan. Add the rice. Turn the heat up and coat the rice with the oil in the sofrito. Pour in the alcohol. Let this reduce by half.

Spread the rice evenly over the pan, then pour in all of the saffron and paprika flavoured fish stock and water. The liquid will be about 1-2cm above the rice.

Turn the heat down to medium so it quietly bubbles away for 17 mins. Don’t stir.

Push the monkfish into the rice, but not so far as the bottom of the pan. The water should be much reduced now, and needs to be all gone in the next 8 mins—turn the heat up or down accordingly.

After 3-4 mins, dot the mussels evenly over the paella dish and let them steam open as the final bit of water cooks away. We want, by the way, for there to be a little crust at the bottom of the pan—again, resist temptation to stir.

By 25 mins, the water should have cooked away, the monkfish will be spot on, and the mussels opening up. Turn the heat off. Squeeze ¼ of a lemon over the paella, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper, and cover tightly with foil while you pop the cava and set the table.

Remove the foil, serve on to 2 plates direct from the pan. Eat with a cold, shaved fennel salad dressed with lemon and olive oil, or just a crisp, green one.

Recipe and image: Ed Smith