Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perfect Paella

Upon the arrival of Spring a few weeks back, my husband and I decided to have our parents over for dinner for some authentic Paella Valenciana, a traditional Spanish dish that combines chicken, fresh seafood, and spring ready vegetables combined with a saffron spiced rice. My father-in-law is originally from Valencia, Spain, so he came over to teach us how to make this traditional dish in the same way his parents taught him. We gathered together all the ingredients and fired up the grill. I was so excited to use my new paella pan and azafran (saffron), both brought back from Spain.

Unfortunately for you, I am not going to share the family's secret paella recipe. Every great cook and entertainer has a few tricks and secrets they can never reveal, and if I did, I think I might be shunned by the family. However, a hostess always accommodates, so here is a traditional recipe from Pepita Aris' cookbook Spanish Food & Cooking:

6 Tbsp White Wine
1 lb fresh Mussels
1 cup fava beans
5 oz green beans
6 tbsp olive oil
1 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breast, bite pieces
1 lbs prawns (large shrimp)
5 oz pork fillet, cubed
2 onions, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
4 Tbsp chopped parsley
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
pinch of saffron in 2 tbsp of hot water
1 3/4 cups paella rice, washed and drained
8 oz chorizo, sliced diagonally
10 pcs olives
smoked paprika, salt and pepper
Heat the wine and add the mussels. Discard any that do not close when tapped. Cover and steam until opened. Reserve the liquid and mussels separately. Discard any that do not open. If using blanched half shells like I did, arrange them in a steamer, put a dash of white wine, sprinkle with sea salt and steam for 5 minutes.

Briefly cook the fava and green beans in boiling water, then drain and run cold water to stop from cooking. Pop the fava beans out of the shell.

Heat oil in paella pan. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Brown chicken and set aside. Do the same with the shrimp and pork . 

Heat the remaining oil. Saute the chopped garlic and onion until garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes, & tomato paste, then the rice. Add chicken stock, the reserve mussel liquid, the saffron liquid and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring every now and then to make sure that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. When the all the liquid is almost absorbed by the rice, stir in everything except for mussels and olives. Lower heat, cover pan with foil, and cook for another 10 -12 minutes, moving pan every 2-3 minutes to evenly cook the rice. Alternatively, you can cook it in a 350 F oven for 15-18 minutes or until rice is done. Arrange the mussels and olives on the top before serving.
Here is what our paella turned out looking like in the end (forgive the bad lighting... I had to take a quick shot before everyone attacked to pan!):
A few tips for cooking paella:
1. Paella is a blend of flavors and foods, so use what you like, and don't add what you hate. If you don't like mussels but love calamari, add the calamari. If you don't eat pork, then substitute the pork for more chicken or scallops, like we did.The same goes for the vegetables. What makes paella good is the blending and seasoning of all these things together to flavor the overall dish.

2. The pan you use has to cook evenly. You need to make sure that your grill is level and dispensing even heat. If you prefer to use the oven, make sure your racking is pretty level, and the oven is nice and hot before you begin.

3. Paella is a family-style dish, and usually serves 6-8 people. It is the main event, especially after all the time it takes to prep and cook. Serve it with some rustic bread and a Spanish style salad, but nothing more. Trust me, you will get your fill from this dish alone, and no sides are needed. 

4. Cut lemon wedges for your guests and spritz the rice with some fresh lemon juice just prior to eating. Just a teeny bit of lemon seems to make all the flavors pop!
Hope you experiment with a traditional Paella sometime this spring or summer when the vegetables are fresh and flavors are perfect for a warm night. Let me know how it turns out!

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