Over the Easter weekend, we heard the call of the land, and the call of family friends’ combined 18t/21st/100th anniversary of their property, so took a 5 hour drive west to Moonie (about 350km west of Brisbane, Qld, Australia).
One of our fondest memories from when we were little visiting the property was being knee deep in mud catching yabbies. Word got out that we had a our heart sets on yabbing and luck was on our side a) they were ‘biting’ (yabby season) and b) the farmer (Don) had shot a roo the week before especially to use as yabby bait.
We slip slop slapped and headed down to the dam to try us some dinner!
For those of you who have never had the opportunity to go ‘yabbying’ they are caught by tying a cube of meat to a string about 30cm long and the string to the stick. You ‘cast’ it out and then poke the stick into the mud and watch and wait for it to move…. much the same principle as fishing. The yabbies crawl/swim up to the bait and nibble on it with their big claws. Once they bite you can choose several of many techniques:
▪ The ‘slow pull up’ method is neat and very precise. It involves slowly and gently pull the meat+the yabby out of the water making sure the yabby is still attached and then pop it straight in to the bucket
▪ The ‘launch as squeal’ method… pull the meat+ yabby out of the water with the string and flick it behind you and squeal and giggle while you try and pick it up before it scrambles back into the water
▪ The ‘flick and catch’ method, this has high risk of getting bitten, so a higher adrenaline factor. When the yabby is biting the meat, you sneak up behind it and flick it out of the water with your hand. Once it been flicked on shore, you grab it right behind it head, out of harm’s way of the claws!
▪ The ‘become the yabby’ method. One fellow yabbier, an outdoors veteran and general thinker, analysed what he would do as a yabby, where he would love, how far he would swim and how much meat he would like to eat. Post analysis he threw a line in and left it for about half an hour. Although his method didn’t pull in the biggest numbers he caught the BIGGEST yabby we had even seen, affectionately named ‘Big Blue’.
Back in the big smoke, we had a party to attend (‘religious icon’ theme), so decided to line our bellies with some yabby paella!
This was Bookery’s first attempt at cooking paella, and a risky venture with 15 beer hungry fuelled mouths to feed! Thankfully we had a paella veteran along side and the big wise man passed on 3 key facts about making a delicious paella…
1) Be careful not to add too many ingredients; paella is all about the rice and the ingredients are there simply to flavour it.
2) Do not stir – I repeat – do not stir paella. It must have a dark crust on the bottom to impart that slightly smoky, deep flavour.
3) The resting time at the end is crucial so the flavours can marry. A well-rested paella always tastes much better than one hot from the stove.
You can use whatever seafood you have on hand, fish mussels, prawns, yabbies, whatever tickles your aquatic taste buds!
1 tblsp olive oil
1 catch of yabbies large prawns
250g calamari cleaned and cut into rings
Salt and pepper
For the Sofrito
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
1/2 cup water
For the Paella
1/4 tsp saffron
2 tbsp warm water
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 litre water
1/3 cup peas
150g white fish, cut into large pieces
handful of scallops
12 mussels, cleaned
2 lemons, in wedges
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the paella pan. Add 2 tbsp of the olive oil, scallops and calamari. Cook for a few minutes until brown all over and season with salt and a little pepper. Remove to a bowl.
For the sofrito
(This should all take about 45 mins and can be done ahead of time)
Add the rest of the oil to the same pan and, when hot, add the onion. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft and golden (yum). Add the garlic, cook for about 7-8 minutes until lightly coloured and softened.
To the golden onion + garlic mixture, add the tomatoes, season liberally with salt and pepper and cook slowly until the sofrito has reduced and there is no liquid left. Add about 1/2 cup of water and continue to cook until the liquid has again reduced.
The sofrito should have a delicious rich concentrated flavour and pulpy consistency.
For the paella
While the sofrito is cooking, gently heat the saffron in a small pan for a few minutes, until it changes colour and becomes fragrant… be super careful here as it burns easily!
Remove from the heat, crush with the back of a spoon and add to 2 tbsp warm water. Add the scallops, calamari and paprika to the finished sofrito and cook, stirring for a few minutes, then add the water and bring to the boil. This is a good point to have a taste and see if it needs more salt (seafood, rice and tomatoes can’t ever have too much salt really!)
Add the saffron, peas and the rice and bring to the boil. Stir briefly then turn heat to low. Place the pieces of fish and mussels over the rice and poke them in a little so they can cook. Layer the yabbies neatly in a circular pattern over the rice (they’ll get cooked via steaming).
DO NOT STIR! As hard as it is and as much as you want to, it’s not risotto so do not stir!!!
Remove from the heat and cover with a tea-towel for 10 mins, then remove the tea-towel and allow to rest for another 5-10 mins before serving. Squeeze over the lemon juice and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serve directly from the pan with some crusty bread and a glass of wine.