Paella Por Favor

I love paella, the ubiquitous rice casserole of Spain. It’s essentially a meal-in-one — starch, protein, veggies. You really only need a crisp leafy salad to accompany it to make a complete, balanced meal. But it can be little tricky to cook all the proteins fully and cook the rice to a consistency just past al dente; hopefully this recipe will help demystify the process.

Chicken, chorizo, clams, squid, and shrimp make a bountiful paella.

First, you need a paella pan, a hammered steel pan with an angled side and two loop handles. You can substitute a large, 14 to 16-inch oven-proof saute pan, but the results will not be exactly the same. I used a 16-inch paella pan for this meal. Now you also need real Spanish rice, preferably from Valencia, but really any short-grain rice will work. Risotto rice, usually arborio or carnaroli rice, is a great substitute. And you need flavorings: a tiny bit of saffron, Spanish paprika, some good stock. In this recipe I recommend using half chicken stock and half shrimp stock. Shrimp stock is easy to make. Take shrimp peelings (shells) and throw them in some water with onion and celery and a little white wine. Bring to a boil and strain. If you don’t have the wherewithal to make shrimp stock, substitute with bottled clam juice. That will provide the proper “seafoody” background flavor the paella needs.

Finally, choose your proteins. In this recipe I use chorizo (a dried Spanish sausage), chicken, clams, squid, and shrimp. If you like, try it with rabbit, with pork loin, with mussels, with lobster. Of course you can make a marvelous vegetable paella using veggie stock and whatever veggies you have on hand. I’ve made it with bell peppers, fava beans, and chard — it was lovely.

What you’re looking for in the final result is rice that is fluffy and flavorful, moist but not too sticky, cooked but not mushy. It also should have a decent crust on the bottom of the pan, called the socarrat. Finally, the resulting dish shouldn’t be too thick. The rice will cook best if it’s not over two inches thick. Which means you need to treat the proteins like accessories, and not the star of the show. Too much “stuff” in your paella means it takes longer to cook, and makes it harder to gauge the cooking time of your rice.

Ingredients:

4 small chicken legs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 dried Spanish chorizo (approx. 8 ounces) cut into 1/4 inch chunks or slices
1 large yellow or brown onion, diced
1/4 cup minced parsley
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
4 and half cups of Spanish short-grain rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups shrimp stock
healthy pinch of saffron threads
1/4 pound squid, tubes and tentacles, well-cleaned — body tubes cut into thin rounds
8 large shrimp, cut lengthwise. Remove the vein but keep the shell on.
3/4 pound manilla clams, scrubbed and cleaned
1/4 cup frozen petite peas, defrosted

Finish with:
extra virgin olive oil
minced parsley
lemon wedges

Now do this:

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

First, cut your chicken legs into four pieces. You need a heavy-duty cleaver to cut through the bones, so you may wish to ask your butcher to handle this (that is, if you’re “chicken”). Cut between the joint to separate thigh from drumstick. Now cut the thigh in half and then cut the drumstick into two pieces as well. Cutting the legs into smaller pieces means the chicken cooks faster and is distributed more evenly in the rice.

Cut each chicken leg into four pieces.

Real chorizo from Spain. Don’t use Mexican “chorizo”. It’s totally different.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, celery salt, and paprika. Heat your paella pan over medium-high and add the olive oil. When the oil is just about smoking add your chicken pieces. Brown all over and remove.

Brown the chicken all over.

Put the browned chicken on a small sheet-pan and put in the oven. Allow it to cook for 20 minutes. When you’re done cooking the chicken, turn the oven heat up to 400 degrees; you’ll need it again soon. Meanwhile, cook the chorizo in the uncleaned paella pan, in the same olive oil you browned the chicken in. Brown chorizo chunks all over and reserve in a bowl. You will notice that the chorizo exudes some of its own, paprika-tinted fats into the pan. This is good stuff. Don’t you dare drain it!

Heat your stocks over a back burner. You’ll need to have it warm when you add it to the rice.

Now make the sofrito, which is basically the foundation flavoring of the dish comprised of onions and tomatoes. Keeping the heat on medium-high, saute the onions, garlic, and parsley for about two minutes. Now reduce the heat to low and slowly cook the mixture for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very soft and slightly caramelized. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and stir in the tomatoes. Stirring often, cook the tomatoes until most of the water has evaporated.

Cook your sofrito slowly to coax out a lot of flavor.
Fold your rice into the sofrito. You want each grain of rice coated with the oils.

Next, turn the heat to medium, add your rice and fold it into the sofrito. Move the rice around to coat uniformly with the oils. You want to saute the rice like this for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent any rice from sticking. Now add your wine and cook rice until any acrid smell of alcohol dissipates. Add your stocks and scatter the saffron over the top. Cook until you see the liquid just come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t stir the rice with any utensils, but shake the pan horizontally on occasion to prevent the rice from clumping and sticking.

Now add the cooked chicken, the chorizo, the squid, the clams, and the shrimp. Try to tuck each thing into the rice without stirring up the rice too much. Simmer gently another 15 minutes. Now add your peas and cover the entire pan with aluminum foil and place in the hot oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. Check your rice. If it’s too hard, add a little additional warm stock over it and cover again, baking for another 10 minutes or until cooked through. Check all ingredients to make sure the clams are open, the shrimp in cooked through, and the squid is cooked but tender. Bake, tightly covered, until everything is cooked through.

Finally, uncover the paella and return to the stove top. Turn heat on high and cook for about 30 seconds. This will form a nice crust on the bottom. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and scatter some minced parsley all over. Serve with lemon wedges and a nice salad.

Not my best picture. But probably my best paella!
A nicely cooked paella! Serve directly from the pan.

Eat it with gusto!

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