Paella (Kitchen Monkey Style)

The other day I was reading the most recent issue of National Geographic. Four of the articles featured animals (bats, salmon, lions, swans) and each focused on how these animals are up sh*t creek (in the case of the salmon, pretty much literally) because of human behavior.

In other words, an excellent, thought-provoking, and phenomenally depressing issue. One article, however, is about Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. The article itself is short, but the graphics that accompany it are beautiful and fascinating. Thinking about Spain always gets me thinking about food. In that sense, Spain has a lot in common with many, many other things.

In particular, my mind turned once again to paella. The missus and I received a paella pan for our wedding, but until last week I hadn't used it. That explains why there was still a label on the bottom of the pan. A label I didn't know about or see until the pan had been sitting on a medium high burner for a couple minutes. It took a few seconds to figure out why the entire house suddenly smelled like burning chemicals. The label was charred, but the pan was OK. I wish we had been filming. It would have made an excellent contribution to my show, which I plan on pitching to the Food Network. It's called Cooking While Stupid. It has been running in my kitchen for years now and includes such famous episodes as "Entire Bowl of Gazpacho All Over Floor!" and "Eccchh, That's Not Sugar!"

In any event, this paella turned out real nice, with local Chincoteague clams and all. Hearty and delicious. The spanish chorizo is really one of the best parts. Not only because the grease from frying it is great for sauteeing and flavoring the rice, but because any extra chorizo pieces you fry make for addictive appetizers while you wait. Enjoy.

Paella a la Cucina Mono

Feeds 4 to 6

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large (or 2 small) carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, washed and chopped small
1/2 large (or 1 small) red bell pepper, diced

32 oz. chicken stock
12 strands saffron

1/4 cup olive oil
1 can of whole San Marzano (or regular old plum) tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 lb. spanish chorizo, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 cup of frozen green peas

2 cups arborio rice (traditionally use bombo rice. I have no idea where to get bombo rice).
1 cup dry white wine

6 jumbo shrimp or 12 large shrimp, peeled
12 large hard shell clams, scrubbed well

Note: add any kind of seafood you want, and omit the chorizo if you want, using olive oil in its place for the rice. That would leave you with a paella de marisco. Adding the chorizo and any other meat leaves you with a paella mixta. The allegedly original version is paella valenciana, which often has beans and snails. Mmmmmm, beans and snails.


(1) in a medium saute pan, heat olive oil. Add carrots, onion, and parsley and sautee, stirring, for about 4 minutes (this makes the soffrito). Add the red pepper, stir for a few more minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
(2) in a medium sauce pan, warm up the chicken stock (don't boil) and add the saffron, stir. Keep warm but out of the way.
(3) In same pan in which you sauteed the vegetables, place 1/4 cup of olive oil and bring to medium high heat.
(4) Add tomatoes (but only about 1/4 cup of their juice) to the olive oil, along with chopped garlic. Keep over medium heat for about 15 minutes or more, until the flavors and juices are condensed.
(5) In the meantime, in a large sautee pan (without oil) over medium high heat. Spanish chorizo is already cured and doesn't need to be cooked, but frying up the pieces will release their beautiful and delicious orange fat.
(6) After the chorizo has fried for a few minutes, remove the pieces with a strainer and set aside. Place the rice in the sautee pan and stir to coat with the chorizo fat, for about four or five minutes, stirring frequently.
(7) Add white wine to rice, and stir until wine has cooked off. Turn off heat.

Now, to assemble.

In your paella pan (or other large, shallow, oven safe pan), spread the rice in an even layer on the bottom. Then spread the tomato/oil mixture in an even layer on top of that, and the soffrito mixture on top of that. Then do the same with the peas and the chorizo. Once that's done, pour the chicken stock in slowly. If your pan isn't big enough, I can't help you.

Put in the oven at about 350 degrees, for 15 minutes. Remove and test the rice. It should still be somewhat firm--not ready to eat yet. Arrange the seafood how you like. Place back in oven, and turn heat up to 400 degrees. It should be read after 10 minutes or so (or when the clams and/or mussels have all opened). As always, avoid the shellfish that don't open.

Good with crusty bread and Spanish red wine.


Bouillabaisse - Perfect Seafood Stew for a Chilly Night (Recipe)

D.C. has been cold lately. Yes, yes, it's all relative. We haven't the thick blood of you Minnesotans, Canadians, and the like (and a shout out to Akron, which I hear just got a bunch of snow). But even after five years in D.C., Florida hasn't completely left my blood. In any event, it's the kind of wind-whipping cold that keeps sensible people indoors to nestle on the couch on a Friday night with a movie and a bowl of something hot and delicious. Recently we did just that, with an incredible bouillabaisse. I urge you to make this.

Bouillabaisse is a traditional seafood stew that originated in Marseille, and I had a great bowl of it during my summer in France (but no picture of it, so no post). But until last week I had never made it. Now you can add to my growing list of food obsessions. The flavors are complex and aromatic. The rouille is a garlicky mayonnaise that is spread on toasted baguette rounds and served as described further down.

The recipe below is primarily taken from one of my favorite cookbooks. It's called "The Secrets of Success Cookbook." Nearly everything I've tried from it has been flat-out great. Published in 2000, it gathered favorite recipes from all types of restaurants in San Francisco. All that said, I have tweaked the recipe below a bit (particularly the rouille, which I found way too garlicky, and I really like garlic). I also used a different variety of seafood and made the fishstock from scratch. This recipe is for six people, but you can easily halve it and have very hearty portions for two people.

The Fish Stock

2 quart stock pot
1 lb. of fish bones or heads (make sure it's white fish. I used two pollack heads)
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the edge a knife and peeled
1/4 of a medium size onion
5 cups of water

(1) Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil
(2) reduce to a simmer and continue simmering for about 20 minutes
(3) strain ingredients and reserve stock after it has reduced down to about 4 cups

The Rouille

1/4 red bell pepper
3-5 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
juice of 1/2 lemon
10 threads of saffron
salt and pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

(1) In a food processor combine all ingredients except the olive oil and process
(2) while processor is on, add olive oil in a slow drip, until done. The rouille should be emulsified. If you didn't do it right and it's watery, well, I'm just not in the mood to help you right now. Google "homemade mayonnaise" or something and try again.

The Bouillabaisse

Large saute pan
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/4 garlic head, peeled and crushed with edge of knife
10 saffron threads
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced leek
1/2 cup diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup peeled and diced red potatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups of good diced tomato
zest from 1/4 of an orange
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
6 fresh basil leaves
1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 cups dry white wine
3 Tablespoons Sambuca (original called for Pernod, Pernod being French, but Sambuca is what I had and it worked just fine)
the 4 cups of fish stock from above
12 clams
18 mussels
6 large or 12 medium shrimp
1 lb. red snapper, cut into large chunks

(1) Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add garlic, onion, and saffron, and stir for 2-3 minutes
(2) Add carrot, leek, fennel, and potato, saute for 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper
(3) Add the tomatoes, zest, fennel seeds, basil, and rosemary. Stir for 3-4 more minutes
(4) Stir in wine and Sambuca (or Pernod). Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fish stock, cover pan, and simmer for 20 minutes.
(5) Add the clams and cook for about 10 minutes.
(6) Add the mussels and cook for 1 minute. Remember that if the clams or mussels don't open, they were dead before they made it in the pot. They need to go!
(7) Add the red snapper and shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes until snapper is firm and the shrimp are pink. Remove from the heat.

If you want to serve it traditionally, take out the seafood and place it on a platter. Then pour the remaining broth and vegetables into individual bowls. Slice a baguette into thin slices, toast, then spread the rouille on each one. Place the toast rounds floating in the broth and serve. People can select what seafood they want.

We just spooned the seafood into our bowls along with the stock, and had the toasts on the side (dipping them into the stock, of course).

Labor intensive? Yes, a bit. But trust me, this one is worth the effort. Especially on a cold night.