Monday, March 1, 2010

Paella



Last night we had friends over for dinner and made Paella. I prepped the ingredients and Paul put it all together on the grill. This was the first time that we cooked it on the grill and it was fantastic. They had shrimp scallops and crab legs available at grocery store... and how could you possibly go wrong with that? The first time I made Paella it was a friend’s birthday and for a birthday meal she requested Spanish cuisine. What she really wanted was Paella. When I began doing my research I had no idea that it would become one of my biggest culinary obsessions.
My first batch of Paella was cooked in an ordinary non-stick skillet. After that first bite, however, I knew that I would invest in my own Paella pan. In addition to the new cookware Paella introduced me to the pungent fragrance and vibrant red strands of saffron, numerous varieties of olive oil; and the joy of steamed mussels.



In Spain, men most often cook Paella, much like B-B-Q in the U.S. Another similarity to B-B-Q is that it is cooked on an outdoor fire. After the Paella is finished the family gathers around and consumes it straight out of the pan. They savor the crispy outer edges first making their way to the center squeezing lemon on it as they go. The pan is then merely wiped clean and stored for future celebrations.



Strict purist make a distinction between true paella and other rice dishes cooked in a paella pan. According to The Heritage of Spanish Cooking the original dish is called paella Valencia and can only be made on a wood fire using the traditional ingredients. The traditional ingredients are; rice, rabbit (or pork), chicken, snails, green beans, lima beans, tomatoes, olive oil, saffron, water and salt. But whether I say paella and you say paella-esque, my favorite way to make Paella is with seafood. Other variations that I’ve tried are excellent as well. After fishing in Winchester, Texas at a friends cabin I made a version that used green beans and several Blue Gil caught in Ross Lake. A delicious and time saving option is to buy a rotisserie chicken. It’s especially tasty when you can find a rotisserie that uses a wood fire. Then you get the outdoor flavor even when you cook it on your kitchen stove. Substituting chickpeas for the seafood creates a vegetarian version. Whatever you decide to include is fine. Just use you imagination. Paella is most likely named after the pan that it is cooked in, but the following legend is far more beautiful and my preferred choice for explaining the origin of this truly exquisite dish!

Here is the story: A Spanish princess traveling through southern Spain stopped at a small inn. The owner ,a young man struck by the princess’ beauty, decided to personally prepare the evenings feast for the princess as a gesture of his affection. Into a casserole dish he put his finest seafood meats and rice. He seasoned it with wine, olive oil, onions, garlic, and added the freshest tomatoes, peas, and asparagus from his garden. The princess was so delighted with the aroma and delicate flavor of the dish that after her meal she asked for the name. Since the young man had prepared the dish especially for her he decided to call it por ella (translation --"for her" ) or paella. (paraphrased from the book: Clarita's Cocina by Clarita Garcia)

Paella

Here is a basic recipe. They didn't have mussels last night so we used crab legs. These were precooked so we added them at the end of the cooking time in order to warm them.

Serve with lemon wedges

1/2-lb. shrimp, peeled (reserve the shells for broth)
a pinch of saffron threads
salt to taste or vegetable bouillon
1/4 C. olive oil
1/2-lb scallops
1/2 onion, chopped finely
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tomato, halved and grated
1 1/2 C. Paella or medium grain rice
1 red bell pepper sliced
8 or more mussels
1 lemon, cut in wedges for garnish

In a medium saucepan, boil 4-6 cups of salted water. Add the shrimp shells and vegetable odds and ends and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes. Strain the broth, and return it to the saucepan. Toast the saffron gently, crush the threads with the back of a spoon, and add to the shrimp shell broth. Taste for salt; the broth should be well-seasoned. In a 14-inch paella pan or a large frying pan, heat the oil on high. When the oil is hot, sauté the shrimp and scallops until almost cooked through. Set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 min. Add the tomato and season with salt, sauté until the mixture, called the sofrito, has darkened and is a thick purée. When the tomato-onion sofrito is ready, add rice to the pan. Sauté until the rice loses its opaqueness. Increase the heat to medium-high. Pour in 3 cups of the simmering broth (reserving the remaining ) and stir or shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice in the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil. From this point on, do not stir the rice. Add the bell pepper. Cook the paella on medium-high, rotating and moving the pan to distribute the heat. If possible you might want to distribute the pan on two burners to keep the heat more even. Add mussels by submerging them in the broth to cook on top of the rice. When the rice begins to appear above the liquid, after 8 to 10 min., reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more. Taste a grain of rice just below the top layer; it should be al dente. (If the rice is not done add more broth to the pan and cook a few minutes more. Arrange the shrimp and scallops in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and cook gently for another 2 min. to help ensure that the top layer of rice is evenly cooked. With the foil still in place, increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat. The rice may crackle somewhat, but if it starts to burn, remove the pan from the heat immediately. Let the paella rest off the heat for 5 min.

Sofrito (which means "lightly Fried") is a basic preparation widely used in Spanish cooking. Every sofrito is made with garlic, onions or both, many also include tomatoes, red or green bell peppers, parsley and meats: some are thickened with ground almonds, sieved hard-cooked egg yolks or even bread crumbs. Whatever the ingredients, they are generally chopped and usually cooked in olive oil.
From Time-Life Books: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal



FIN

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, I have been meaning to ask you for a recipe for this. Dad used to make paella when we lived in Europe. john

    ReplyDelete
  2. makes me feel hungry,lol.... looks fantastic

    ReplyDelete

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