Paella (and Boiling Springs, PA)

It's a good feeling to have somebody specially request that you cook a favorite dish. It means that you did it right the last time. It also means you have a chance to outdo the last time.

A few weeks ago my sister requested that I make a paella for her 29th birthday. So the weekend of April 3, I and the soon-to-be "Mrs. Kitchen Monkey" piled into the car with my other sister, her husband, and my year-old nephew (whose name--Jacques-C├ęsar--practically mandates a future as an internationally renowned Casanova). We zipped up from Washington, D.C. to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania for a proper hootenanny and feast.

Joe Baker, who I mentioned in my last post, brought an excellently cooked salmon, and I slapped together the paella you see above. An indecent amount of wine was tipped back and much food was eaten. We pushed ourselves away from the table, and got out the instruments. My sister's friend (and co-worker at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) brought his accordion. My sister played mandolin, I had my guitar, Joe had his harmonicas, and Laura (another friend of lil' sis) had her bodhran (a circular celtic drum, for those not in the know). We played well into the night, and everyone left full and happy.

My paella never turns out the same way twice, since I tend to make it on the fly with a rotating variety of ingredients. But here's the closest approximation. Keep in mind, the following points:

  • I offer no pretenses that this is "authentic" paella. I think it probably started from a recipe in a Spanish cookbook years ago, but over time I've either consciously altered or just forgotten parts of the original.
  • quantities of nearly everything here are very negotiable and should be toyed with according to your personal preferences.
  • I did not have a true paella pan with me, but instead used various pans. If you don't have a paella pan, the important thing is that it go on the range and in the oven.
  • Though I was cooking for 12, I've cut the recipe in half here, so it should make paella for about 5 or 6.
A generous amount of extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup onion chopped
1 red bell pepper (or 1/2 red and 1/2 orange), chopped
1/3 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 link of Spanish Chorizo, sliced into rounds about 1/2 inch thick
1 lb. chicken thigh or breast meat, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (if you only have one kind of paprika, just use 2 Tbsp of that)
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (san marzano if you're serious)
32 oz. chicken stock (I used a veal/chicken stock I made earlier this year and froze--delicious!)
16 oz. fish stock (you could instead make a stock by boiling the shells of your shrimp)

15 to 18 clams
1/3 to 1/2 lb. of squid, cleaned and sliced (use tubes and tentacles)
1/3 lb. shrimp, peeled
15 to 18 mussels

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large saute pan over medium high heat to make a nice soffrito. After about 7 to 10 minutes, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Pull off the heat and set aside for the moment.

In your paella pan (it must be range and oven safe, remember) or cast iron, or whatever you're using, add the chorizo over medium high heat. Cook a few minutes. Spanish chorizo is already cooked, so you don't want to cook them too long, just enough to release some of that delicious grease. Once there is a nice bit of grease, remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon. Add the chicken to the chorizo grease and cook over high heat until the chicken is browned on both sides. Then remove the chicken.

Add a little olive oil to the remaining grease, and then add the rice. Cook for about five minutes over high heat, stirring here and there, until the rice begins to brown.

Add the vegetable mix to the rice, then the chorizo and the chicken. Then add salt and pepper and the paprika. Stir for a couple minutes over medium high heat. Then add the crushed tomatoes and both types of stock. Stir everything well. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Check to see if there is still a bit of liquid left in the pan. You don't want too much left, but you don't want your rice burning either.

Once the rice is about 15 minutes from being done (test it!), add the clams and the shrimp and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Check it. If the clams are just starting to open, that's the time to add the squid and the mussels, both of which will take less cooking time than the clams.

Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and serve with a delicious crusty bread and plenty of good Spanish wine.


Rev. Biggles said...

Lucky me, I just ate lunch and am not affected (much) by your post. I'll come back in a few hours just before dinner to torture myself.

xo, Biggles

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