Andar de Paella
Spanish cuisine has always fascinated me, mainly because of how much it differs from the many flavors of Mexican, Central, and South American cuisine one finds here in the US. While the languages are similar, the food certainly isn’t. Spanish cuisine has its own distinct flavor and culture that one can see relationships with its European neighbors. The easiest way to try the cuisine in America is to check out a tapas restaurant.
In the Mediterranean region of Spain known as Valencia, a beautiful dish was born through the farmers and has even become designated at Spain’s National Dish, although actual Spaniards wouldn’t agree. Paella takes its roots from the Muslim rule of the Moors up until the near end of the 15th century. It’s a rice dish at heart with many Middle Eastern flavors, but combined with the fresh seafood known only to the Mediterranean Sea, and a splash of spice known best to Spanish cuisine.
The culture of paella is treated the way Slovaks and Hungarians look at goulash. It’s a big pot of food made when it’s time for a celebration. Plus you can put almost anything into the dish and make it your own special blend. Even moreso, both cultures cook the dish over an open fire…although you won’t have to.
Paella can come in many varieties based on what you decide to put in it. Paella Valenciana is more the original recipe containing snails, rabbit, and beans. Definitely a dish made by farmers. Paella Marinera takes its cue from the fishermen of the Mediterranean coast, as it contains no beans and its meat content is entirely seafood. Paella de Verduras is made entirely from vegetables with beans providing the protein. Nice one for those not into seafood or on a diet.
The most familiar and popular variety of the dish is known as Paella Mixta. I’m pretty sure this is the variety you’ll see if you ever find paella in any restaurant outside of Spain. While recipes variate, most cooks will use chicken with a variety of seafood. This is also the variety I’ll be showing you, mainly because I’m not into snails.
Many recipes out there will claim you should invest in a good Paellera (Paella Pan) if you’re going to cook this dish, but I would only suggest that if you’re going to cook paella regularly. A Paellera basically looks like a pan shaped like a plate. Most usually are around fifteen inches in diameter and are made of steel or cast iron, depending if they’re only seeing a stovetop or an open fire.
When I did my paella, I used a large wok, which worked out perfectly. However, I would also suggest keeping a flat-bottom sauté pan nearby in case the amounts are becoming too much for the pan. Use your best judgment when cooking this dish.
Now picture yourself by the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and here we go…
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of chicken, cubed
- 12 oz. of chorizo (removed from casing)
- 2 small yellow onions, diced
- 3 bell peppers (any colors you like), diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1 tsp of saffron threads
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 8 fluid oz of clam juice
- 4 cups of chicken stock
- 4 cups of short-grain rice
- 3 tsp of ground red pepper
- 1 lb of medium-size cooked shrimp (defrosted if frozen)
- 1 lb of small scallops (defrosted if frozen)
- 1 lb of mussels
- 1 16-oz bag of frozen peas, defrosted
- Salt and pepper to taste
I would seriously advise chopping and having everything ready before you start. It will make life easier on you since timing is part of this recipe.
With the mussels, place them into a colander and rinse them thoroughly with cold water. Remove any mussels that aren’t closed and throw them away.
Making the Paella
- In your chosen pan, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat.
- Season the chicken with 1 tsp of ground red pepper along with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Cook the chicken in the pan until it’s halfway to nearly done and set it aside.
- In the pan, heat up the last two tbsp of olive oil and place the chorizo in it. Cook the chorizo for about six to seven minutes.
- Add in the onion and bell peppers and cook until onions become golden and peppers are soft.
- Stir in the garlic, saffron, tomatoes, and chicken.
- Pour in the clam juice and three cups of the chicken stock. Stir.
- Continue heating the mixture until the liquids begin to boil, then reduce heat to medium.
- Allow the mixture to cook for ten minutes at medium, and then carefully add in the rice. Stir carefully and allow rice and liquids to incorporate.
- Let the mixture now cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Check the rice. If it’s not done, then give it more time. If the liquid is gone, then add more chicken stock to your discretion.
- Season the shrimp and scallops with the remaining ground red pepper as well as salt and pepper to your taste.
- Add the shrimp, scallops, and mussels to the pan and mix with spatulas to get the seafood buried in the mixture.
- Wait about five or six minutes, then add the peas.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer for another five to ten minutes.
Most recipes call for dark meat on the chicken, but I’m more a fan of boneless skinless breasts. Some might think less of this, but I say use whatever cut of meat you like.
Have a second pan ready if you’re not using a Paellera. Right about when I was ready to add the clam juice and chicken stock, I ended up taking a third of the mixture out of the pan and placing it into a second pan. If the amounts seem high, then feel free to divide everything in half. My amounts were based on how much you get in packages of frozen seafood as well as cartons of chicken stock. I’ll add in though that even with my amounts, it went fast.
This recipe can translate to other varieties. If you would like to Paella Valenciana, substitute the seafood for a pound of rabbit, 1 cup of white beans, and 20-25 snails. For Paella Marinera, take out the chicken and chorizo and perhaps try other seafood to your liking. Squid is a suggestion. If you would like to do Paella de Verduras, then take out all the meat and add in eggplant, white beans, and artichokes.
The beauty of this dish is you can substitute any way your tastes desire. Just remember the rice, saffron, and garlic are the key ingredients.