Paella is best eaten over an hours-long summer lunch at one of the hangar-like rice restaurants on the edge of the wide city beach in Valencia, Spain, where there’s inevitably a photo of Hemingway with the owner. True paella, tasting of the sea, and revealing a sublime crust on the bottom of the pan when the rice is gone, evokes the kind of slow summer vacations that average Americans rarely have, but should. That mushy bright yellow pile dotted with tasteless shrimp, greasy chicken and green pepper shreds on a plastic plate you’re tucking into at a museum opening? That’s not paella, it’s a hangover preparation.
Spanish cuisine has matured remarkably in the United States in the past decade, thanks in large part to a wave of Ferran Adrià– worshipping chefs here. But despite notable Spanish restaurants in American cities and the PBS series in which Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali ate their way across the country, people still have trouble getting beyond paella when it comes to Spanish food. The variety of fish and seafood still featured daily in markets in Spain has inspired many dishes that are just as iconic as paella for natives of its various regions. Here are six Spanish seafood dishes to look for.