Long before she was a beach volleyball star, TV personality and one of "Elle" magazine’s Five Most Beautiful Women in the World, Gabrielle Reece was a little girl in a kitchen on an island, helping her grandmother cook. At just 7 years old, she was learning to make the meal that remains her favorite dish today: seafood paella.
“I call seafood paella ‘happy food,’” Reece says. “It reminds me of my childhood, and my abuelita [grandmother], who was always in the kitchen. That’s where I’d spend time with her. The dish brings me comfort.”
Their recipe combined saffron, rice, garlic and onions with plump shrimp and fresh mussels pulled straight from the crystal blue waters surrounding the family’s home on St. Thomas. (Reece was born in California but lived in the Caribbean until moving to Florida when she was in the 11th grade.) The recipe was mild, not spicy, which allowed Reece to appreciate the seafood flavors and surprising textures of the dish.
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Reece says. “No two bites are the same.”
After moving to the mainland and becoming a professional athlete and model, Reece met her husband, Laird Hamilton, a champion surfer who shares her experimental palate. Together with their daughters,Hamilton and Reece prepare the paella a few times a year, always serving it with cooked bananas and black beans on the side.
“I think food is an exploration, it’s supposed to be fun,” Reece says. “Our paella is made with a great deal of creativity. No one’s thinking about calories or fat content. It’s about enjoyment -- and because I don’t get paella often, it’s a real treat.”
"Paella represents a part of my life that isn’t obvious. It’s a dish that is, like I am, connected to the sea."
How To Make Gabrielle Reece's Seafood Paella
1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. pepper 1 tbp. olive oil 2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium) 4 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 tsp. crushed saffron threads 4 cups seafood stock 3/4 cup white wine 2 lemons 2 cups saffron rice 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces 1 cup chorizo 1 lb. large uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined 1 lb. cleaned squid cut into 1/2-inch rings 1 dozen clams, scrubbed 1 dozen mussels, scrubbed, debearded 1 dozen scallops 1 lb. cod
Preheat oven to 450°F. Heat olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and chorizo with salt and pepper and cook until brown, about 7 minutes per side. Using tongs, remove chicken from pot.
Add chopped onions and garlic and saute until the onions begin to brown (about 10 minutes). Stir in rice and saffron. Add seafood stock and wine to pot, then bring mixture to a simmer.
Season your shrimp with the juice of a lemon and a touch of salt and pepper. Broil on the highest rack for 5-6 minutes until slightly pink, then set aside.
Remove the rice mixture from heat and pour into 15 inch x 10 inch x 2 inch glass baking dish. Arrange chicken, chorizo, shrimp, squid, clams mussels, scallops and cod in rice mixture. Cover with foil.
Bake paella for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, the clams and mussels open (discard any that do not open), and the rice is tender. Remove foil from baking dish. Let paella stand 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.
Why She Loves It
“Paella represents a part of my life that isn’t obvious," Reece says. "Many people see me only as Californian, but my biological father is from Trinidad, so I have roots in places that people are surprised to learn about. It’s also a dish that is, like I am, connected to the sea.”
“The best way to enjoy seafood paella is with your family. The kids can help prepare the dish, and the love that goes into the meal when you work together makes it even better. That’s a big part of my personal culture and the family I’m raising.”
What Makes It A Healthy Meal
Brian Wansink, professor of nutritional science at Cornell University and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” says the seafood in Reece’s paella is low in calories but high in protein, which satisfies hunger for longer. “Gabby gets a lot more satisfaction for a lot fewer calories than she’d get from red meat,” Wansink said.
How To Make The Meal Even Healthier
Wansink says a simple way to boost the nutrition value of seafood paella is to add lots of veggies to the mix. “Gabrielle's recipe is a great start, but why not add lots of vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes, or anything else that suits your palate. Those veggies are bulky, nutritious and fibrous, so they’ll fill you up long before you overeat. You won’t want excess starches or dessert.”
About the Chef
Gabrielle Reece is a professional beach volleyball player, model, sportscaster and mom. She runs gabbyreece360.com, a fitness training site for women where she posts workouts and meal ideas.