Paella

There are a few things you must know about paella:

• It originates from the region of Valencia in Spain, and traditional versions were made in the field by hunters and contained not seafood but rabbit and snails.

• The pan is called a paella, and the dish is named for the pan. While you can cook a reasonable paella without the pan, it won’t have the same theater (see the video below). Besides, it’ll only set you back around $20 for a 15″ pan from Spain. (www.surlatable.com)

• Paellas were traditionally cooked outdoors over an open fire. This is still the best way to cook paella. Although you can achieve just as good an effect on the barbecue. When our kitchen was being remodeled, I cooked outdoor on the barbecue for two months. We ate a lot of paella.

On the requisite Eurail-Pass-aimless-post-college-graduation-European-adventure, I often chose where I went next based on things I wanted to eat. I tracked down the legendary bread, fougasse, amidst the landmarks of Van Gogh paintings in Arles, and hunted tortelloni with walnut sauce in Genoa. And so I spent three languorous days in Valencia, stuffing myself on paella and falling asleep at odd midday hours from the sangria. In 72 hours or so, I ate 9 or 10 different paellas. I ate traditional with rabbit and snails, I ate touristy seafood paellas, I ate black squid-ink paellas and white paellas with fish and potato dabbed with alioli, I ate paellas made with noodles instead of rice. The least among them were among the best I’d ever had. And the best were a revelation.

Spanish food is one of my favorite types of cuisine to cook. And in the years since that vacation, I’ve made dozens of different kinds of paella. Recently I walked into a Sur la Table to discover they were having a 40%-off sale on all paella pans. So I finally felt justified purchasing that enormous 22″ pan I’d been coveting all these years. (“Enormous” being relative — in Spain they have paella pans several yards wide that feed hundreds.) Not that you should judge a man by the size of his paella pan. I’m unsure where I’m going to store it, but I had fun cooking a big paella for a bunch of friends over an outdoor fire (fortunately not catching the nearby state park on fire). Following are a couple videos of the big paella cooking, and a recipe for a typical seafood paella you can do at home — pan or not.

*   *   *

Valencia seafood paella
serves 8-10

1 lb. Spanish paella rice such as bomba (or other short-grain rice such as arborio)
1 2-oz Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced thinly
1 Dungeness crab, cleaned and cracked into pieces
2 lbs. live clams in shell
1 lb. squid, cleaned and cut up
4 cups fish stock
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, pureed in the blender
1/2 lb. snow peas
2 tbsp. pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
5 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp. saffron threads
sea salt to taste

(*Note: you could substitute any of the seafood for other shellfish. i.e., mussels in place of clams; shrimp instead of squid, etc.)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat in a 15″ paella pan (or similar). Add sliced chorizo and cook until beginning to brown. Add onions and cook until translucent, stirring frequently (about 4 minutes). Add rice and toast, stirring to coat each rice grain in olive oil.

Heat the grill (if cooking outdoors) to high. Add fish stock and pureed tomato to pan with rice, stir in pimenton and saffron, and arrange seafood, snow peas and rosemary on top. Place pan over heat and bring to a boil. (If working on a stove top, place paella across two burners.) Whether cooking on a grill or stovetop, you’ll need to turn 1/4 every two or three minutes to ensure even cooking. Cook for 5 minutes, drizzling with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and adding chicken stock as needed to sections cooking faster than others.

For paella cooking on the grill: Close lid as much as possible (it might rest on part of the pan), turn heat to medium and cook for 20 or so minutes, adding chicken stock as necessary, until paella is cooked. (Test rice on the top, as rice toward the bottom may cook faster.) Add soaked wood chips to fire for smoke.

For paella cooking on the stove: After 5 minutes on the stove, add a bit more chicken stock, and transfer to a 400-degree oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid has cooked away.

Remove cooked paella from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Wine suggestion: a bold Spanish Ribera del Duero or American temperanillo or lighter grenache, or sangria made with 1/2 red wine, 1/2 orange juice and a dash of orange liqueur such as Cointreau.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 00:50:02

    I don’t like Paella and I can’t figure out why because I like everything that is in it separately. Wierd. Nice post though, dude.

    Reply

  2. Ben
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 00:51:17

    Note: A paella pan would fit perfectly inside a Big Green Egg. I made a delicous Moussaka on mine this week. You’ll be happy to know I’ve fallen soundly off the vegan cleanse. I just returned from a local restaurant where I had a delicious grilled house-made Italian sausage with white beans & escarole. Awesome.

    Also, I did discover some good things vegan. No one should sneeze at my vegan tacos made out of grilled-Adobo sweet potatoes & chickpeas with a purple cabbage salad and peach salsa. For the ominivores, add a coriander seed crusted pork loin and lime-spiked creme fraiche.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jun 03, 2011 @ 01:09:33

      That sausage/white beans/escarole thing is one of my faves. Check out the pork shoulder grilling in that one video. It was probably the best piece of meat I’ve ever grilled. I’ll post a recipe for that one of these days. I’m not anti-vegan at all. I think it’s more the word “vegan” I react to. I call them “vegetables”. LOL … One of the best tacos I’ve ever had is a swiss chard/red onion taco that’s traditional from Oaxaca, I think. Cheers mate.

      Reply

      • Ben
        Jun 03, 2011 @ 01:12:38

        BTW, off to Belize this Christmas. I look forward to exploring the Chinese-Latin fusion that is inherent in the country.

  3. monica
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 01:24:55

    Beautiful! Both the paella and pork shoulder. Was the pork shoulder boneless? And do you ever put sea urchin in your paellas? Would that be an odd shell fish to add?

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jun 03, 2011 @ 15:41:33

      I try to cook meat on the bone, whenever possible. Better finished product. I would not use sea urchin in paella — it’s sort of an expensive delicacy, and it would be lost in the paella. (Plus, it’s texture gets kinda chalky when cooked.) I have made a killer sea urchin risotto, though.

      Reply

  4. Greggie
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 02:44:37

    I shared your post with my friend Connie who is of Spanish descent and who once had a paella party with an authentic Spanish chef who prepared it over a special grill in her backyard:

    What fun to read. Bravo Sean, I have never heard of some of those paellas.

    Reply

  5. mom
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 18:52:08

    At a local paella feast at the Dry Creek General Store up here last summer the chef added Spanish Padron peppers which I ‘d never had and which have become a favorite. She sent me behind the store to the garden to pick some for myself.

    Reply

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