I’ve just realized that when I wrote about my mother’s paella recipe, I didn’t mention my favorite thing about it: shrimp. This will sound strange, but regardless, here goes…
When I was younger, and she was cooking paella, my mother used to give me the task of dealing with shrimp. This meant that I would stand at the sink, dump a pound of shrimp into the colander I had propped up inside the stainless steel basin, and then promptly tear off their legs and maneuver their bodies and tails out of their shells. This was my favorite job in the kitchen. How I loved the strange and faint zipping noise their legs made, as I separated them from their cold, firm abdomens. I would give myself points for each tail I could coerce intact from its flimsy gray armor (how many points, I can’t tell you, since I would rack them up without counting). After I had made my way through the pile of bodies, I would rinse them under cold water, shake them dry and present them to my mother, who would unceremoniously dump the lot into the pot to cook and to redden.
For some reason, and this holds true to this day, whenever I clean shrimp, I always want to slip their stiff, petal-like tails into my mouth and bite down. I don’t know why. I’ve never done it, for sanitary reasons, and I haven’t the same compulsion for cooked tails. I can’t explain that one either.
Anyway, the photo above is of a nice little plate of paella Keith and I had at a tapas bar in the Albayzín district of Granada during a trip to Spain this past fall. As I recall, it was very good. No shrimp though.