My second non Asian recipe I am posting here. A paella is an interesting entity because of what the purists claim the dish is limited to in terms of ingredients. I have heard stories of arguments coming to fistcuffs and people getting offended in disputes over semantics constituting this dish.
My recipe here is more to teach the technique of the dish than focus on the ingredients. You will find that I have added only two meats to this paella (chicken and chorizo) making it hard for even the strictest paella snobs to dismiss my use of the paella label in favor of “seafood and rice” or “arroz con mariscos” as it were. I will talk about setup, preparing the sofrito, starting to cook, when to add certain ingredients and finally finishing.
Above I have most everything I will need to make the paella. Up in the left hand corner is the minced parsley and thyme leaves. Next to that I have black pepper in a grinder. By that is my mortar and pestle which, until I bought a spice grinder, was my only means of pulverizing spices. I still use it from time to time when working with smaller amounts of spice. By that I have a can of tomato paste and then my extra virgin olive oil (imported from Wal Mart, hehe). Under that I have my saffron threads (in that lovely artistic tin there) which I will treat in more detail further down. Then my garlic, my dry spices, a sprig of fresh rosemary and then my 3 cups of Bomba spanish rice. In addition to the above, I have one medium spanish red onion, chorizo and chicken (none of which are pictured). With regard to the rice, this is another short grain japonica rice with a high amylose content so it is not a sticky rice. It is a shorter grain than the Italian risotto rices and it also absorbs more liquid than they do. Bomba rice will soak up almost 3 times its own volume and be fairly dry on the outside when it is done cooking and give you a fairly al dente grain. So again we see large variances in the same types of base rice.
The paella pan above was a gift from my mother-in-law. She knows how much I love paella and it was a birthday present a couple of years ago. One of her best presents ever. And as much as I wanted to add all kinds of yummy seafood to this one, I could not for two reasons. One – so it can be defined as a paella above (Spaniards are very particular and if you put things like clams or mussels in it, it is technically to be called seafood and rice and not paella). Incidentally, while we are on the subject of what goes into a real paella – the original way it was made included meat from a type of large vole that lives by the river and catches some of its food under water. That’s right – true paella does not include clams or mussels but it does contain butchered river rat.
Now you can be as creative as you like with your own paella and I don’t personally care what you call your dish but if you decide to call your squid, octopus, clam and mussel dotted rice dish paella, you may get some negative feedback from denizens of the Iberian peninsula. Just getting you prepared.
With the mess of label semantics out of the way, before I even start my paella I have to do two things. One, I need my stock, and two – we have to make the sofrito. For the stock, I prefer making my own stock when I can. You will NOT get the same results from a paper carton of chicken broth from the soup aisle at your local supermarket that you will by making your own. To make mine, I take a whole small chicken, and a pound or more each of chicken feet and chicken necks which you can find VERY cheap at your local Asian grocer. I love my Asian grocers. They carry so many things you can’t get at a normal chain that so many of us are unaware of the myriad number of uses for. Like chicken feet and necks, for instance.
I put my chicken in a large slow cooker. I put the chicken feet in another slow cooker with the necks (I have two for this very reason).
Chop one onion, two celery stalks, and 2 carrots into pieces. Sauté them in butter for a few minutes in a pan and then put half of the sautéed mire poix you just made into each cooker with the chicken. Then cover each with water. I like to add about 15 peppercorns to each and a tablespoon of salt as well. This will render about 1.5-2 gallons of stock.
I then set both cookers on low and leave them to simmer for 24 hours. Yep – 24 hours. That gets LOTS of flavor. At the end of that time, I pour both cooker crock pots through a strainer into a pitcher and then put that into the refrigerator.
Look at my stock below. Look at the color of it. I want you to compare what I have below with a grocery store carton of chicken broth. They are not even close. Store bought broth is barely darker than water. Mine is a rich amber color that you can’t even see through when it’s in the stock pot. I use this homemade stuff for all kinds of dishes and you will see me mention it a lot.
What will happen as this cools in the fridge is the broth will literally turn to jelly over the next few hours and all the fat will congeal on top as it has here in my pitcher. Scrape out all that fat (as much as you can). Then save the stock for whatever you plan to use it for. If you won’t be using it right away, put it into quart Ziploc bags and freeze it. But as we want to use ours in the paella – pour out about 7-8 cups into a pot and start it heating.
After it liquefies again from its gelatinous state, you will want to taste it and salt as necessary. In my paella I use both meat from the whole chicken I used for my stock, plus some sliced from a chicken breast. And with sliced chorizo as well, the paella purists will still let you call this a paella.
After our stock is ready, we make our sofrito. I chop up the onion first. Cook this in your paella pan on medium high heat with olive oil until the onions start to caramelize and then add half the can of the tomato paste and minced garlic. Continue sautéing. Turn the paste and stir as you cook, spreading it out on the pan. it is at this point that I add the land meats (no seafood) and cook until the meats are done and coated with that sofrito.
Then I add my paprika and finally the stock. I’ll use about 7-8 cups for 3 cups of rice. When the stock starts to simmer, lower the heat to low-medium low. Stir to completely dissolve the sofrito.
Add your minced parsley and thyme as well as a generous pinch of saffron and stir well. The saffron is an important ingredient but do not overdo it. You can ruin an otherwise perfect paella just by adding too much saffron. It will have a metallic taste that you cannot get rid of. In spain you will often hear paella chefs speak of an ingredient called “colorando”. This is nothing more than starch mixed with a strong food coloring that they add and stir in to color the rice. This is because the saffron by itself will not be enough to give the rice that yellow color most want in a paella So even the masters will add some food coloring to theirs and you can too if you wish. I confess I did use a small bit of yellow liquid food coloring in this dish.
Add the rice and stir well to mix all the ingredients. Once we get this started we will not want to disturb it until it is finished so now is the time to make sure we don’t have any lumps of sofrito in here. At this point I am adding peas and my rosemary sprig for flavor. You can also add a couple of bay leaves if you want (both the rosemary and bay leaves will be removed before serving). Some people will also add broad pole beans to the paella. This is normal and is authentic as well.
Let the paella cook on low to medium low heat until you start to see the rice grains and most of the broth disappears. About 10 minutes into this process – if you are plan to add any bivalves – now is the time to do it. You will arrange them on top. The heat from the rice will slowly cook them and they should open up, releasing their liquor to further flavor your rice. But alas we will not here *sigh*
The next part takes some practice and you will get better at this every time you make a paella.
When it is almost done, it will begin to crackle and pop at the bottom after the liquids are all dry. This is the toasting of the rice and creates what is called the soccarat layer. Basically a crust forms consisting of rice and sofrito sediment that is highly concentrated with flavor and is the best part of the dish for most people. Paella is a rice dish. It is not a meat dish or a seafood dish. The main player in paella is the rice and everything else that gets added is a condiment that improves flavor. And the soccarat is the flower of the rice!
After it toasts for a couple of minutes, stick a fork or spoon into the rice and test for socarrat. That is – see how much resistance you get from the bottom later before your spoon hits metal. If there is something clearly in the way, you have soccarat. If you are new to making paella – scrape a little of the rice up off the pan with your spoon. If you have a brown, slightly crisp toasted layer on the bottom, your paella is done. Take it off the heat. I like to put a slightly damp towel over the paella while it rests for about 10 minutes.
Now if you want to get traditional, you will want to just put the whole pan as it is in the middle of your dining table and with a metal spatula – scrape under the sides to separate the paella and soccarat from the metal as far in as you can and then let your diners have at it. Paella is meant to be shared and people just start digging in and eating from the outside in.
But alas I am not in Spain and my own eating habits won’t permit me to eat off of the same plate as the people I am elbow to elbow with. I have seen dogs mutilate one another in this very situation. I might try the sharing it the middle eventually.
But not today. I like to scrape up some paella out of the pan and put it on a plate. I let other people do the same. I then garnish mine with some large Caputo capers and dig in.
I literally have no shame here as I eat this meal at my desk between my phone and my laptop. The capers give this dish a nice lemony salt boost. If I were cooking this only for me, I’d have added all kinds of shellfish. The next time I make this it will be a seafood variety and I will write another post on it.
Paella (land) recipe (serves 6-8):
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 lb of chicken
- 1/2 lb sliced chorizo sausage
- 1/3 lb of rabbit or some other meat
- 3 cups Bomba or Calasparra rice
- 8 cups of chicken stock
- 1 pinch of Spanish saffron
- 1 medium red onion chopped
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup chopped or minced parsley
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
- salt (to taste)
- 1 Tbs fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika
- 1 cup fresh peas
- 1 cup large Spanish Caputo capers
- Mix the tomato paste and the minced garlic together.
- Heat the olive oil in a 16-18″ paella pan
- Add the onions and cook until they are carmelized. This should take about 8-10 minutes at medium high.
- Add the meat and sauté until done. Push meat to one side
- Add the garlic-tomato paste.
- Cook the paste until it starts to caramelize and then stop to mix with the meats.
- Add the paprika and black pepper.
- Add the chicken stock with saffron and stir well to dissolve the sofrito and paprika
- Add the parsley and thyme.
- Add the rice and stir very well.
- Place the sprig of rosemary into the stock whole.
- Turn the heat down to low-medium low and allow to cook.
- When the stock is mostly gone (about 20 minutes or so) stick a spoon in to test for doneness You should hear the sound of toasting rice first.
- If after testing, the rice still does not resist you touching the metal bottom of the pan, let it cook a little longer. You should be able to hear a crackle and fizzle when it starts to toast.
- When you can stick a spoon in and scrape up some brown toasted crust on the bottom of the pan, take the paella off the heat.
- Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Garnish with capers over the top of the paella and remove the rosemary sprig.
Next time I do this, I will make a seafood paella. Enjoy!!