Paella: It’s Personal

“Paella,” according to Wikipedia, “is a Valencian rice dish with ancient roots that originated in its modern form in the mid-nineteenth century near Albufera lagoon, a coastal lagoon in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. The dish is widely regarded as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish; Valencians regard paella as one of their identifying symbols.”

But as anyone knows who has been to Valencia, there is paella and there is paella. What virtually all paellas have in common is rice (though some use pasta instead). Beyond that, different recipes call for a variety of ingredients: rabbit, snail, chicken, sausage, shrimp, langostino, mussels, squid, monkfish, peas, peppers, lima beans, artichoke hearts, and a thousand other items. That is one of the beauties of paella: it’s personal. You can add what you like and eliminate what you don’t like, and come up with the perfect personal paella.

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Here is ours. I am including the full recipe because some of you have asked for it, although you can find a thousand recipes on the Internet and in hundreds of cookbooks. This recipe starts with Paella Parellada from Barcelona: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World, published by Williams-Sonoma, which we have then altered to suit our personal tastes. You may want to add other items: calamari, monkfish, chicken breast (we often add this), rabbit, port loin. Remember, it’s personal.

INGREDIENTS

As with most foods, the quality of the ingredients is key. This is especially important in paella. Use mediocre ingredients and you will get a mediocre product. Still, we make many compromises based on cost/benefit. Quality matters more for some ingredients than for others.

IMG_19874 cups chicken stock. We use some homemade stock (from boiling chicken) and usually amplify it by adding a good chicken bouillon paste.

Artichoke hearts. We used either one or two cans of artichoke hearts, quartered. You can, of course, use fresh artichokes, but this increases the complexity of the preparation and adds only minimally to the quality of the finished product.

Course sea salt

IMG_19881 teaspoon saffron threads. These are expensive but essential. You can pick up some great quality saffron at a good price in the Boqueria in Barcelona, but if you are not near the Ramblas, Costco sometimes carries saffron at a reasonable price. You can also find sources on Amazon.com. But whatever you do, don’t use a cheap substitute (yellow coloring): saffron is essential.

3 cloves garlic. Use only garlic cloves, not powdered garlic.

6 chicken thighs and legs. Buy these from the butcher, bone in. Have the butcher cut the thighs into small pieces, about 1″ square, leaving the bone in. Keep the legs (drumsticks) whole. The bones in the chicken provide important flavor.

slide_ground_rules1 lb pork sausage. Choose a high quality fresh sausage that you like. We use Creminelli – it is of the highest quality, delicious, and is manufactured by our son-in-law! (A shameless pitch, but check it out. This is really good stuff!) We actually use more than a pound because we love sausage in paella.

1 cup olive oil

1 yellow onion (sometimes known as Spanish onion…)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long strips

IMG_19892 ½ cups short-grain rice. Getting the right rice is critical – don’t use ordinary long-grain rice! The best rice is Bomba and can sometimes be purchased at Whole Foods. However, the Bomba rice is ridiculously expensive, and we usually use Valencian rice from Whole Foods: cheaper but still works very well.

1 cup of shelled peas. If you can find fresh peas, they are much better than frozen, but frozen peas are better than no peas.

2 cans lima beans. We love lima beans in paella, but you may or may not like them. It’s personal.

12 medium or large fresh shrimp in shells. Check the fresh fish section of your market. We were able to buy fresh Mexican shrimp in shells for $8.99/lb last week at Harmon’s Emigration Market.

24 large mussels. You can usually find these in the fresh fish section of a good market. We got ours at Harmon’s. But be advised: mussels in the United States don’t compare to mussels in Spain. All U.S. mussels seems scrawny and flavorless compared to those giant, plumb (and cheap) Spanish mussels. Still, some mussels are always better than no mussels.

1-2 fresh lemons cut into wedges. Use these to squeeze juice on shrimp and mussels when eating the paella.

Fresh Italian parsley. This is used as a garnish on the finished product.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring the stock to a gentle simmer and keep on low heat.
  2. Using a mortar and pestel, grind 1 teaspoon of salt with the teaspoon of saffron until it forms a fine powder.
  3. Place a 16″ paella pan (or large frying pan with a heavy bottom) over high heat and add about ½ cup of olive oil. Sauté the chicken legs, thighs, and sausage until golden brown, then set aside.
  4. In the same pan, sauté the onion, then add the artichoke hearts.
  5. Stir a little of the stock into the saffron/salt mixture and mix into a paste. Then pour the paste into the stock and let it continue to simmer.
  6. Add the chicken and sausage to the onions and artichoke hearts in the paella pan and add a couple of ladlefuls of hot stock.
  7. Add the rice to the paella pan, then add the peas and lima beans and mix together. Arrange the drumsticks in a radial pattern. Add the remaining stock (saving about ½ cup in reserve). Place the shrimp, mussels, and red pepper strips on top of the rice mixture.
  8. Let the paella simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is tender but not too soft. If it appears to dry out before the rice is tender, add additional stock.
  9. When it appears ready (and shrimp are pink and mussels are open), turn off the heat, cover the pan with a clean dry kitchen towel, and let stand for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle thoroughly. Garnish with parsley and lemon and serve.
  10. Serve with toast garnished with olive oil and salt, then rubbed with garlic and tomato.

IMG_1980Expect to spend a couple of hours preparing and cooking the paella (and a couple of hours shopping for the ingredients).  Preparing the paella is almost as fun as eating it! A 16″ paella will serve about 8 people.

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Make and eat this paella, and you, too, will be a food master!

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