Sunday, May 11, 2014

Paella - Make it as You Want It

Saffron I bought in Spain
I love Paella. If anyone does not know what Paella (pronounced pah-A-ya) is, I will explain as best I can. The simplest answer: Paella is a rice dish from Spain.  The rice is usually flavored with paprika and/or smoked paprika and saffron. It is often made over an open fire. This rice dish usually includes some vegetables; onion and garlic always, and then it gets tricky, depending on whose recipe you see. The dish also includes some kind of meat; most often it will contain seafood and/or fish, but it can include chicken, ham, rabbit, pork, chorizo. 

I learned to make paella from two best friends from Guatemala, who have relatives living in Spain. When they made it at my house one time, I copied down all they did and had made the recipe that way ever since. It made enough to feed an army, and it contained every kind of meat or seafood they could find: chicken, pork, ham, chorizo, clams, mussels, octopus, fish. (Beef is the ONE meat that is never in any paella I have heard of). It had onion, garlic, green beans, peas, carrot, olives and capers. It was absolutely wonderfully flavored, and I have loved it, always.

That said, when once I was in Barcelona, I asked a taxi driver to take us to a restaurant that did not cater to a tourist crowd, but instead a place he or his family would go for a good meal. They had paella on the menu, so I ordered it. While I expected something different from the "paella" I knew, this one was relatively tasteless. The sole "meat" included in the dish was gigantic rings of squid. The rice had no particular color and no particular flavor. Obviously it was lacking anything like saffron or paprika. It was an entire disappointment. I have not traveled anywhere else in Spain, and that was the one day I was there, so I cannot remotely judge all of Spain by that one dish. I am absolutely certain there are marvelous paella dishes to be had.

My new "Paellera"
Recently I acquired a real paella pan. Oh yes, there is a specific type of pan used to create this dish, called a "paellera" (pah-ay-YAIR-ah). A paella pan is very shallow. If you get a larger pan, the width grows, but the depth stays the same. This is to ensure that the rice gets cooked through properly. I can attest that it is far more difficult to cook all the rice through if it is made in a deep pot. It can take a couple of hours or more to cook through in a deep pot. I have done it. I had never heard of a paella pan when my friends made it at my house so long ago. So after all these years I have a paella pan. It is a 15-inch pan and will accommodate enough paella to feed 6 - 8 people. I just had to make paella.
from a site promoting hotels in Ibiza, Spain

Most paella will include some kind of shellfish. Most often seen in photos as seen right are the shining black mussels and/or clams standing up prettily from the rice. I love seafood, but unfortunately I developed an allergy, so I do not eat it anymore; I could, but why go through that hassle? My husband, on the other hand, WILL NOT eat seafood. He "hates paella" because it contains seafood. Maybe not totally authentic, but paella does not absolutely have to have seafood, so I decided to baptize my brand new paella pan with an all-meat paella.

I used a whole chicken and the addition of a small amount of ham, pork and chorizo. Other than this change, the only other thing I did differently from my friends' version was leaving out the carrots. In general, I pared down that humongous recipe to one more manageably sized, while keeping all the ingredients I loved. I could not find chorizo sausages in the grocery here, so I got a tube of chorizo meat; thus there are no pretty round slices in my dish. Here is my recipe, using my 15-inch paella pan:

Mixed Meat Paella

serves 6 to 8
Mixed Meat Paella

olive oil, as needed
1 whole chicken
salt for sprinkling chicken and pork
1/2 pound pork loin, cut in small chunks
1 cup cubed ham
4 - 6 ounces chorizo, sliced
4 cloves garlic
3 teaspoons Kosher salt (slightly less if regular table salt)
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimenton de la Vera), or use all Spanish Paprika
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, cubed
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups medium grain rice
1 small jar (4 ounces) diced pimiento
2 teaspoons nonpareil capers
12 green olives
3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
3/4 cup green beans, cut in 2-inch lengths
3 cups water or stock

Have handy a paella pan or a very large, shallow pan. It can be a shallow roaster or large, oven-safe skillet.

First cut the chicken. Cut thighs into 2 pieces each, drumsticks can stay whole, breasts should be cut into 3 - 4 pieces each. Remove wingtips. Freeze the wingtips and the back for making stock at some future date. Heat a large skillet and add some olive oil. Sprinkle salt over the chicken pieces and also the pork. Over medium to medium-high heat, brown the chicken pieces a few at a time without over crowding the pan. Make sure they are nicely golden brown, 10 minutes or so per batch. As they are browned, remove them to a plate. Once the chicken is browned, add in the pork and toss quickly to sear; remove to the plate. Set the skillet elsewhere to cool while continuing with the recipe.

In a mortar with pestle, smash the garlic with the salt and once soft and semi-liquefied, add the paprika and/or smoked paprika and the saffron threads. Continue to work these ingredients until well combined and homogeneous, adding a little olive oil if needed to make a paste.

Set the the paella pan (or other) onto the heat and add more olive oil. Add in the onion and green pepper and saute until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the can of tomatoes, juice and all and allow to cook down slightly. Add in the garlic mixture and stir well to incorporate. Add the rice and water or stock and stir. Add the peas and green beans, capers and olives and the jar of pimientos, with the liquid. Stir just to distribute the ingredients. Add the ham, chorizo and browned pork, distributing them evenly over the rice mixture. Set the pieces of browned chicken decoratively onto the rice. 
Mixed Meat Paella, served

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Let the paella come to a boil and reduce heat so that a low but visible boil takes place for about 15 minutes. Cover the pan with foil and set in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn oven off and allow the paella to set in the hot oven for another 15 minutes, to allow the rice to completely absorb the liquids. Enjoy!

From cutting the chicken to out of the oven I made this Paella in 1 1/2 hours, total. If your grocery has already cut up whole chicken, all you have to do is make a few pieces smaller. Much prep work can be accomplished while other things are cooking. While chicken is browning you can make the garlic/paprika/saffron mixture and set aside. Slice the green beans and thaw the peas. The whole trick is being organized. Have everything in place and ready and this is a wonderful dinner or party fare.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.