caribbean paella

How to Make Paella, Caribbean Style

By: Nigel Spence - January 14, 2020

So much of the seafood we eat today is farm raised on crappy diets with all kinds of additives, hormones antibiotics etc. that when I saw some wild shrimp from the ocean along with some octopus from Spain available, I grabbed them up and decided to make a ginormous pot of Caribbean rice. 

I guess it could also be called a paella, as it has all the workings of one except I used good old long grain rice instead of short grain, and didn’t bother with all the chicken and sausage ingredients of a traditional paella.

I got the most beautiful head -on white shrimp, and a 3-pound whole cleaned octopus imported from Spain.

Since they were both very fresh and wild, I wanted each to stand on their own and impart their unique flavors to the dish. To this end I thought it best to cook each separately, then add them at the end to the rice, rather than cook them together with the rice which is done in many paella preparations.

I used the broth that cooked the shrimp to make the rice and added the olive oil used to sauté the octopus after boiling to the rice also for a more complex flavor.

This preparation does use up a few pots in the kitchen, but the end result is well worth the trouble.



1 lb. raw head-on wild Shrimp, washed in cold water

3 lb. raw whole Octopus, cleaned

3 cups long grain White Rice, uncooked1 

1 cup Tomatoes, medium diced

1 cup yellow Bell pepper, medium diced

8 tablespoons Sea Salt

6 tablespoons Olive oil

4 tablespoons Coconut oil

4 tablespoons fresh Shadow Beni, rough chopped (substitute cilantro)

4 tablespoons fresh Parsley, rough chopped

4 tablespoons Mexican Saffron (substitute annatto powder, but use less)

2 tablespoons Scotch bonnet pepper sauce (store bought)

1 tablespoon Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh Garlic, finely sliced

6 sprigs Rosemary, fresh

6 sprigs Thyme, fresh

2 sprigs Oregano, fresh

How to cook octopus:

Forget all the myths about cooking octopus-they are mostly old wife’s tales.

For a 2-3-pound octopus, simply boil whole with 2 tablespoons of sea salt in enough water to just cover octopus for 1 hour. Turn off heat and allow to cool in the water. You can also pressure cook it for 17 minutes once the pressure cooker is at the right temperature for the same results, just faster.

It is now tender enough to do anything you wish with it. To avoid the purple skin and suction cups (the tastiest parts in my book) sliding off of flesh, you can quickly cool in the freezer for 20 minutes, otherwise just cut up the legs and head to the size of your particular application and go ahead and grill, sauté, roast or whatever you plan to do with the tasty protein.

For this recipe, I cut the legs and body into bite sized pieces for a quick sauté.

Finishing octopus

In a sauté pan add 4 tablespoons olive oil and heat till almost smoking.

Add octopus, garlic, 1 sprig of oregano, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 tablespoon sea salt.

Sauté for 2 minutes until browned slightly and remove from heat and reserve.

How to cook shrimp

To plump up any shrimp for a better texture and flavor, one popular trick is to brine it in ½ teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt for every pound of shrimp and allow it to sit for 15 minutes minimum up to an hour in the fridge. Drain, wash and then use in your recipe.

In a saucepan add 8 cups of water with the raw shrimp.

Add 6 tablespoons sea salt, 3 sprigs, rosemary, 3 sprigs, thyme, 1 sprig oregano, 1 tablespoon scotch bonnet pepper sauce and the Mexican saffron.

Bring to a boil for 4 minutes, remove shrimp to a bowl and reserve cooking liquid.

Add 1 tablespoon scotch bonnet pepper to the shrimp and coat them thoroughly and reserve.

How to make the rice 

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons coconut oil, 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat through.  Add the rice and mix well coating the rice well with the oil. Add the balance of the rosemary and thyme. Substitute the shrimp cooking liquid for water and follow the directions from your package of rice to cook.

Putting it all together:

This is when the magic happens.

Fluff up the rice with a fork after it is done cooking, then add the oil that was used to sauté the octopus, tomatoes, bell peppers, shadow beni, parsley, scotch bonnet pepper and mix well. Add the octopus and mix again. Add the shrimp and fold delicately until all is incorporated into the rice. The steam from the rice should slightly cook the vegetables added, but still allow the flavors and texture of each to stand out.

Adjust for seasoning. 

The salt called for in the recipes may seem excessive but it works out just fine. You may find that you can add even more at the end. 

If the rice is too dry you can add more of the shrimp cooking liquid, olive oil or coconut oil or both.

If you would like it spicier you can add more of the pepper sauce etc.

Your guests will sing you praises for this dish!

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.

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