Paella – a perfect, people-pleaser
So, the thing about Paella is that there are so many versions of it…and all are authentic versions depending on what part of Spain your recipe is from.
In some parts of Spain adding chorizo to the dish sounds like blasphemy. Others will proclaim that if it does not have chicken and rabbit in it, it cannot be Paella. Of course, some would be shocked if there is anything more than seafood. So you see, you cannot please all…or perhaps you can…
While every region dishes out their signature twist to this dish, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth if we let the crown rest with the province of Valencia. Their version of Paella is what the world visualizes and salivates over. So after trying several versions, this recipe, that is heavily inspired by Valencia is one that seems to be a pleaser.
Chorizo has been added, for its touch of spice and texture. However, if pork is an issue, any other sausage may be substituted, or skipped all together for that matter. After all, I did let the rabbit skip…sorry! Also, I haven’t added squid for two reasons: there is already enough seafood in the recipe and squid can sometime get tough while cooking if not monitored. However, if squid rocks the pan for you, you can certainly add some to the recipe (about 150 gm to 200 gm, cut into rings or strips).
As for the mussels and clams… yes you can cook it directly in with the rice, but what happens if you get one that is shouldn’t be there? Some clams are known to have sand in them and even if you scrub them before cooking, they seem to deliver surprise you with a little sand delivery afterwards! Hence, this recipe suggests you cook the shellfish separately.
While the variations may start debates, this recipe honours two very important features of an authentic Paella: the sofrito and the socarrat. The sofrito is what starts the dish’s journey towards becoming a Paella. It is the Spanish version of the French mirepoix. Here the onions, garlic and tomatoes form the sofrito, so enjoy this process! Your Paella will be grateful for that. As for the socarrat, this is what tells you that your Paella is ready! Spaniards are known to scrape the bottom of the pan just for that crunch of rice. Given Spain’s vibrant history, I sometime wonder whether this may be related to the much-loved Persian burnt rice called Tah-dig. Could that have been a Moorish influence?
…that can be food for thought. For now, let’s get cooking! The list of ingredients may seem rather lengthy, but once you’ve gathered all you need, the process is surprisingly simple. Cooking in a Paella pan is ideal of course, as you can pretty much serve it fright from the pan itself. Also, the socarrat that such a pan renders is ooooh-so-delicious! However, if you do not have such a pan, any flat-bottomed pan that can evenly distribute heat will do.
1 gm Saffron threads – about 1 tsp (lightly roasted)
3 cups (750 ml) homemade broth, warm (vegetable, chicken or seafood)
10 – 12 mussels in shell (scrubbed)
12- 16 Manilla clams in shell (scrubbed)
2 links of Spanish chorizo
½ cup (125 ml) of Olive oil, divided
1 chicken breasts cut into chunks (optional)
150 gm (5 oz) halibut cheeks or other boneless fillet of fish, cut into chunks
10 – 12 large prawns, shelled with tails on
1½ cups (375 ml) chopped onions (about 1 large onion)
½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin powder
1 tbsp (15 ml) smoked paprika
1 can of stewed tomatoes (398 ml/14 oz)
¼ tsp (1ml) crushed pepper flakes
½ cup (125 ml) dry Sherry – like Fino or an Amontillado (not Cream Sherry)
2 cups (500 ml) Bomba, or Valenciano rice, rinsed and strained
180 gm (6 oz) canned artichoke hearts, drained and cut into chunks.
3 tbsp (45 ml) Sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
½ cup (125 ml) roasted Piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers), cut into long strips about ½ inch thick
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped parsley for garnish
1 lemon cut into wedges for garnish
- Lightly toast the saffron threads in a small frying pan over medium heat, for only about 20 seconds, stirring constantly to avoid it from burning. Add it to the warm broth and let it steep.
- In a double boiler, steam the mussels and clams for about 5 minutes until the shells open. Discard any unopened ones. Add one cup of the liquid used for steaming to the broth with the saffron. You should now have 4 cups of broth all together.
- Fry the chorizo in a paella pan. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add ¼ cup olive oil in the pan. If you are including chicken in your dish, fry it first, about 5 minutes on each side to give it a golden crust. Remove from pan and set aside. Then fry the fish followed by the prawns. Set them aside.
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in the same paella pan. Add onions and sauté until it turns slightly translucent. Add salt, pepper and garlic and continue sautéing for another minute.
- Add the cumin and paprika. Continue sautéing for until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Add the canned tomatoes and crushed pepper flakes. Continue cooking until most of the liquid evaporates.
- Stir in the sherry and scrape any fond formed at the bottom of the pan. The liquid will evaporate quickly … and your sofrito is ready!
- Add the rice and fry it with the onions for about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo, chicken and artichoke hearts. Then add the broth along with the saffron threads. Give all the contents of the pan one quick stir to evenly distribute them. At this point taste the liquid and season with additional salt and pepper if required to suit your taste. Then, trust the recipe and don’t stir it again while cooking! Once the liquid comes to a boil (which is surprisingly quickly) over the pan with foil. Reduce the heat to low and let the rice cook for 25-30 minutes.
- Remove the foil. There should be no liquid visible on the surface of the pan. (If you still see liquid, recover the pan and allow it to cook for a couple of minutes more). Drizzle the vinegar all over the rice and turn the heat up to medium high.
- Evenly distribute the mussels, clams, fried fish and prawn over the rice. Garnish with strips of piquillo peppers. This step should take you about a minute or so. With the heat turned up, you are creating the much anticipated socarrat at the bottom of the pan during this time!
- Turn off the heat and recover the pan with the foil. Allow the Paella to rest for about 5-7 minutes to allow the flavours to integrate deliciously! Just before serving garnish with chopped parsley and serve with wedges of lemon.
… and there you have it! A deliciously memorable Paella that’s going to be enjoyed by all! This is a recipe you’ll want to print and stash away for future generations!
If you are looking for a pairing made in Heaven, consider serving this Paella with a Fino, Manzanilla or Amontillado Sherry. Trust me…there is magic in this pairing that no other wine can match!