Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paella, Paella, Paella!

'What am I gonna do with all this Paella?' - Estelle Constanza said (screeched) that, but I digress. Today we're going to talk about my first attempt at paella...which was *almost* a complete success. For starters, I purchased a paella pan...not that you actually need to do this. In fact, you can sort of make the rice separately in a pan and then use another flat, cooking pan (cast iron, large skillet) to make the rest. Then just mix it all together when serving. I honestly think it will still be good that way, I just needed to have the right pan since I'm me.

Anyway, first, you need to start the rice and to make life easy, I did start mine in a smaller saucepan. Paella calls for short-grain rice, and while it is typically white, I used brown rice and it worked just as well. So start the rice - I used a 1 1/4 cups - in the pan with boiling chicken broth - little less than two cups. Let that simmer on medium heat for close to 10 minutes, while stirring and once the rice grows and softens a little, so the liquid is reduced some, turn to the paella pan (or flatter pan). You want to put some olive oil, garlic (two or three cloves, minced) and about 1/2 onion (yellow or Spanish) diced. Let that sauté over medium heat until the onion and garlic brown. The paella pan is large, so you want to sort of position it across two burners, the best you can.

Now, my attempt with the chicken was not spot-on. So rather than teach you that, I am going to teach you what I will do NEXT time to make it work! Take some chicken thighs and smaller breasts (bone-in), rub them with olive oil, paprika, salt and oregano and then you can preferably grill them outdoors or bake them in the oven on a cookie sheet, either way, cook the chicken pieces until they are almost done, but not entirely.

At this point, snag the rice pot and pour it all into the paella pan, along with a few pinches of saffron, which will give the rice its happy yellow glow. Continue to stir and pour a little more broth in as the rice stiffens, stir and pour and don't give up! I also toss in a bay leaf but remember to remove this and not let anyone eat it before serving. In a frying pan, you want to take the chorizo sausage (about three to four links, thickly sliced) and pre-cook/brown it a little, then set it aside.

Behold my Paella Pan! The red handles were just a bonus ;)
Take your chicken and now fold it into the rice, along with chunked/sliced (your preference) red and yellow pepper, and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Next, toss in the partially cooked chorizo and let it cook together until the sausage is done; note: being in the broth will speed this up a little. Once the sausage is looking a little better, it is time for seafood. ALSO at this point, stop adding broth - nothing should be really sizzling as the heat should still be on medium - plus some moisture will come from the next ingredients no matter what. As for seafood, I opted for shrimp rather than scallops, but you can totally include both and lobster, mussels, etc. If left to my own devices (and palate) I would've used it all....but I was cooking for a group, so shrimp are the most universally accepted shellfish :) Toss the shrimp in, cover them with the rice...they obviously will not take long, whether they are raw/fresh or raw/frozen.

I used frozen peas because canned is gross and, well, who the hell is shelling fresh peas?? Not this girl. So let the bag sit out for a few minutes to avoid a chunk of ice peas and then dump them in and let them all mix together. Once the peas and the shrimp are in, there should be maybe 20 minutes, give or take, left to the cook time. At the end of the process, you really want the rice that was on the bottom to have become crusty, which you can then stir up with the rest of the softer rice, as per the dish's authentic origins. If this isn't happening, let the dish cook a little longer to try and absorb more liquid.

Finally you want to pull out the larger meat, so the chicken basically, and then arrange it all nice and pretty over the rest of the paella. I do not have a photo of this plated as I was serving to a table full of friends who were eager to eat at that point. Served with a Tempranillo, as well as tabasco and wedges of lemon to squeeze on the paella, as desired.

¡Buen apetito! - Melissa 

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