Sunfish Paella

Recipe courtesy of Keane Amdahl from his cookbook “Lake Fish - Modern Cooking with Freshwater Fish”

Lake Fish – Modern Cooking With Freshwater Fish by Keane Amdahl

Paella is one of those quintessential Spanish dishes that is both comforting and incredibly flavorful.  The soft rice is spiked with saffron and paprika, and the roasted red peppers give a pop of delicious sweetness. You can change up this recipe a few different ways. Leave the fish skin on and crisp it up first to give a nice texture to the dish.  Or prepare the fish skin off, adding the fillets closer to the end. You can also throw in other seafood items like mussels, clams, or shrimp. And it’s easy to adjust the heat level.  If you like it spice, add chilis or swap them out for a hotter variety. If you like it mild, just use the roasted red peppers or leave them out altogether. It is your paella, after all.

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 sunfish fillets (see notes regarding skin)

3 ½ cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon saffron threads

1 tablespoon Spanish paprika

1 small to medium onion, chopped

½ fresh red bell pepper, chopped

1 green onion, chopped, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 cup Spanish Bomba (or Arborio) rice

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

1 roasted red bell pepper, cut into strips


If preparing the fish with skin on, descale first. Then add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer and smoke, add in the fillets skin side down and cook until skin is crisp and golden brown. Do NOT flip. Remove from pan and set aside.


Stir together stock, saffron, and Spanish paprika in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and maintain a light simmer until the stock is needed.


To a large skillet over medium-high heat (If you pre-seared your fish, use the same pan), add 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion and fresh red pepper. Cook until the onions become translucent, then add in the green onion and tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste full coast the rest of the vegetables and begins to caramelize. Add vinegar and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the vinegar has almost fully reduced, then add in rice and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the frozen peas and then pour in 2 cups of the stock, reduce heat to medium, and allot to simmer until the liquid has been fully absorbed. If the rice is not fully cooked, stir in additional half cup stock. Repeat this process until the rice is fully cooked but still a little loose.


For pre-seared fillets, nestle them into the rice and cook through. For skinless fillets, nestle them into the rice and cover the skillet to allow the fish to cook from the bottom and steam through from the top. Garnish with cilantro, roasted red pepper strips, and additional green onion if desired.


Tip from the Chef: Roasted red peppers are available in a jar, but it’s easy to roast a red pepper on a gas stovetop. Just place the pepper over the flame to char the skin, rotating until the entire outside of the pepper is blackened. Seal the pepper in a paper bag or covered bowl for 10 to 15 minutes to steam. Peel away the skin and cut open the pepper and discard the seeds.

Photo by Michael Patrick Bauman

Keane Amdahl is a social media specialist, food writer, and blogger. He lives in Minneapolis, MN. Follow him @FoodStoned, or to purchase his cookbook titled “Lake Fish – Modern Cooking with Freshwater Fish” visit


Categories: Featured, Fish

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