A recipe for success: “Paella”

I dedicate this post to one of my favorite dish to eat, while in Spain, or to cook at home: paella. When it is made properly, you have a recipe for success that can be enjoyed for everyone. You can adapt the basic recipe according to your food preferences: add seafood for a “seafood paella”; add chicken, pork or rabbit (like they do in Valencia, Spain) to the seafood and you have “mixed paella”; add just vegetables and it will be a delightful dish suitable for all vegetarians. As I said before, you can not got wrong with it!

To my opinion, there is not better dish that brings together the fruits of Spain’s rich soil like: rice, fresh vegetables, plump chickens, rabbits, pork, abundance in seafood and shellfish with the use of the distinctive olive oil, than paella.

It is essential to choose the correct utensils and the freshest ingredients to make paella. You will need a special pan that it is different from the regular frying pan that you probably have in your kitchen. These pans called “paelleras” have a special low border about 1 1/5 inches deep and has dips in the central part like a golf ball and two rather large handles on each side. There are paella pans measuring from 7 inches to 1 yard wide and for special occasions for hundreds of people to eat from. When considering  to buy your pan, choosing the right size is very important. Knowing how many people will be eating the paella will help you to choose the right size. Normally, a 13” pan serves 6 people; a 15” pan serves 8 people; a 17″ pan serves 10 people and a 22″ pan serves 16 people.

The traditional, authentic paella is still made nowadays over an open barbecue with kindling wood which, although does not seem to be so important, adds to the correct cooking of the paella.

Before you start preparing paella, it is best to check if you have all the ingredients and the equipment that you will need. Pay attention to the following list:

Equipment:

  • 17 inch (144cm) paella pan
  • Round charcoal BBQ
  • Medium sauce pan
  • Sharp knife for chopping meat and vegetables
  • Meat cleaver (if you use a whole chicken)
  • Aluminum Foil or Large Tea Towel to Cover Paella

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 whole chicken or 8 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 1/2 lbs pork loin (fat trimmed), cut into ¾ inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb calamar (squid) cleaned and sliced into rings
  • 3-4 cups of medium grain or “pearl” rice* (The exact quantity of rice will depend on the size of the pan, so have at least 1 lb of rice on hand)
  • 4-6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large pinch Saffron
  • 1 1/2 lbs raw mussels in shell (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 lb small clams (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 1/2 lbs raw shrimp, medium or large – shell on
  • 1 red pepper seeded and sliced
  • 1 10 oz. bag frozen peas
  • Olive Oil, Salt to Taste
Procedure:

Cut the Chicken and Pork into Serving-Size Pieces – You’ll need one whole chicken, cut into serving-size pieces or 8 chicken drumsticks. If you use a whole chicken, use a meat cleaver to cut the chicken into pieces small enough to easily mix while sautéing.

With a sharp knife, cut the pork into 3/4″ pieces.

Clean the squid and remove the tentacles. Make sure to remove the innards and the “spine” and discard. Then, cut the squid into rings.

Important: Try to buy fresh squid whenever possible. If fresh squid is not available, look for packages of squid in the frozen food section. The squid should NOT have batter or coating on them, since that type is used for frying.

Slice red pepper and chop onions and tomatoes, set aside.

Now that you have the ingredients cleaned and chopped, it’s time to start the BBQ and begin cooking. When the coals on the BBQ are covered in white ash, cooking can begin.

Assemble all the ingredients on a table near the BBQ, so that you can stay in the area and monitor the cooking.

Place the paella pan on the grate and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom and allow the pan to heat up. When hot enough, sauté the onions and tomatoes in the olive oil. Add olive oil as needed to prevent sticking. Once the onions are translucent, add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly – about 15 minutes. Add pork and squid and cook, stirring often.

Add the rice, sprinkling in the form of a large cross on the pan. (Have approximately 1 lb of rice on hand for this.) Stir for 2-3 minutes to thoroughly coat the rice with oil and mix with the other ingredients.

Add saffron threads to the chicken broth and stir. Slowly pour broth into pan until pan contents are covered. Spread ingredients evenly over bottom of pan.

Arrange mussels around outside edge of pan, pointing up. Place clams and shrimp in pan, distributing them evenly around the pan. Add slices of pepper on top.

Allow to simmer and add more broth if necessary. (If fire becomes too hot, raise the pan up, away from the heat.). Add the frozen peas at the end when the rice is almost cooked.

When the rice is ready remove from heat and cover with aluminum foil or large tea towel, allowing paella to “rest” for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. If rice has been cooked properly, the rice grains should be loose, not clumped together or with mushy texture.

For an extra touch to your dish, arranged small wedges of lemon and fresh aromatic herbs like rosemary, then serve and enjoy the goodness of a Spanish Paella!

If after reading this recipe you are still not quite convinced in making some at home, just take a look at these pictures. I guarantee you will be gathering all the ingredients and cooking in no time or buying the next flight ticket to Spain.

early stage of the cooking process of the paella

Almost ready to be served and enjoyed …

Let’s eat!

Fideua: is other version of the traditional recipe made with short angel hair pasta (cabellos cortos) instead of rice. Very popular dish in Barcelona

If you are visiting Barcelona a must place to enjoy paella, fideua and black rice is “El Xiringuito de Escribá”. You will be delighted by the food, the service and by the amazing location by the beach

“Black rice”

restaurant: “El Xiringuito de Escribá” in Barcelona

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