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.


Stir well.


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.
  • Serve

Next time I do this, I will make a seafood paella.  Enjoy!!



It’s All About the Rice

In my last post I talked about the tools used in creating Eastern or Asian food.  Today I am going to talk about the rice since it is in just about every Asian dish other than soups and it does not have to be a monotonous filler that some tend to relegate it to.

By definition, a rice grain is a seed of a grass of species Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima (Asian and African rices respectively) that was first grown as a crop between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago in what is now the Pearl River valley region of China.  Cross breeding by so many different cultures of two basic types has given the world so many different styles of rice to choose from that for the adventurous chef, the possibilities are nearly endless.  For most of us, rice exists in three main varieties.  Short grain, medium grain and long grain.  As a rule, a rice seed is considered long grain if its length is 4-5 times its width.  Short grains have a length and width nearly equal to one another and anything else in between that and the minimum for long grain is considered medium grain.  Most of what I will deal with in this article will be medium or long grain rices.

Below I’ve arranged some rices I have in my pantry on a plate and will talk briefly about each one of them.  Yeah, I have a LOT of rice.  Did I mention I like to cook?


Starting at the top, in that cluster of black grains that resemble rodent droppings we have Chinese Forbidden rice.  So named because this rice was cultivated for consumption solely by the Chinese emperor and his court.  Legend has it that the rice had the properties of an aphrodisiac, and while this grain does contain more iron and other nutrients than any of the other rices above, the legend is definitely exaggerated for a lore effect.  An interesting thing I discovered years ago when my children were little is if you cook 10% Forbidden rice with 90% white rice of any kind together in a rice cooker, you get a purple rice with some black forbidden grains speckled throughout.  It made eating the rice more fun for the kids when they were very young and help cut down on fussy eating and food left on the plates after dinner.  You can also serve this rice chilled after it is cooked as part of a salad.  Use a white rice setting for Forbidden rice in a rice cooker.

Next we have Basmati.  This grain is used in Indian and middle eastern cuisine and is very popular in Persian restaurants here in the United States.  Basmati is a long grain rice that has the unusual property of expanding more lengthwise than in width, making the cooked grains look like short noodles instead of rice grains.  They grow to three times in length from their precooked, dry state.  I discovered talking with Indian coworkers and friends that in India this rice is actually more often eaten with ceremonial and holiday meals because for some people with sensitive stomachs, Basmati can cause irritation.  That is why for day to day meals, Indians more often use a rice called Sona Masuri which I don’t have (or it would be on that plate too) that is another long grain rice.  For myself, I use Basmati in Biryani (my favorite Indian dish that I cook for myself) and Persian Koobideh lamb skewers.  That brings me to my next point which is that the national dish of Iran – Chelo Kebab – is made with Basmati rice.  Lastly this rice is normally cooked on a white rice setting in a rice cooker (unless it is purchased brown) and can be used to make fried rice.

Jasmine rice is a long grain variety that comes from Thailand where I grew up, is the predominant rice grown there and is used all over southern Thailand.  It has a lovely fragrance even before it is cooked which gets more pronounced when it gets boiled.  It is my favorite rice to use in making fried rice as the grains separate easily when chilled and aren’t as apt to break when being tossed around in a hot wok.  I have memories of living in Thailand where a huge 125 lb crate of the rice (that my father would buy once every other month for the 3 maids and gardener) was kept where the maids prepared their own meals and the smell of precooked, chilled Jasmine rice sizzling on a wok with cilantro, garlic and hot peppers would lure my siblings and I to the kitchen.  I personally consider Jasmine superior to the standard Chinese long grain you get served in a Chinese restaurant to accompany meals.  And lastly, this rice can be purchased white or brown and will use those settings in a rice cooker depending on which you buy.

Wehani rice is actually a very aromatic brown rice developed in California by Lundberg Family Farms and its name is trademarked.  My wife likes this variety of rice and I cook it for her now and then when she gets the craving as she wants to eat more brown than white rice.  It is a very healthy rice with a firm bran on the outside that is more than a little al dente.  I am not a huge fan of it as it is very chewy but it tastes good with fats.  I’ll eat it in a tabouleh with glee however, as I think it is better for being chilled.  It should be cooked using a brown rice setting in a rice cooker.

Koshihikari is the most popular rice in Japan and was developed in the 1950’s as part of an initiative to develop a more productive grain of rice to feed the expanding population of that country after the war.  It is a medium grain Japonica rice and as such, it is a stickier rice.  These rices are popular in Japan because the tendency of the grains to clump together makes this rice good for eating with chopsticks.  In Japan, the image of a bowl of fresh steamed medium grain rice is as seductive to the appetite as a well dressed burger might be here.  Koshihikari is used extensively for sushi all over Japan as well as for meals.  Consider that the word for rice in Japanese – Gohan is the same word for meal.  The importance of rice in the Japanese economy cannot be overstated and certainly this particular variety is my own favorite rice to serve with Asian cuisine if I am not going to fry the rice.  The stuff I buy is grown in California and not Japan, however but I still think it is as good as that grown in Japan for the most part.

My family and I consume more Koshihikari rice than any other and it is just as good alone with a raw duck egg yolk dumped on top and stirred in as it is plain with Furikake seasoning shaken on top.  I treasure it because it picks up other flavors from the foods and gravies it is served with easily and even soaks up Thai curries so richly in each grain that it infuses each with citrusy, sweet and savory notes.  Virtually every dish I cook that gets served with rice (other than Indian or Persian dishes) will get served with this rice.  To prepare with a rice cooker, Koshihikari should be cooked on a normal white rice cycle or Umami if your cooker has that setting.  It is interesting to compare the raw grains of this rice with the Nishiki grains in the plate above.  They look very different before cooking but after being cooked, it is almost impossible to tell the difference visually.  They have to be tasted and the Koshihikari has a more pronounced sweetness on the palette.  Other rices of the same quality as Koshihikari are Tamanishiki and Nozomi which can be used as suitable substitutes.  All three are premium Japanese rices.

Nishiki is a readily available medium grain rice found in most large food markets and indeed it used to be my go to rice before I tried Koshihikari.  Nishiki is often the style of rice used to make sake with in Japan after most of the grain is polished away.  It is cooked on a white rice cycle in a cooker and served in much the same way as Koshihikari and this is because both rices are bred for the same purpose.  It’s a starchy, sticky rice used by Koreans and North Vietnamese living here in the U.S. that emigrated from their countries of origin because of its similarity to short grains they used to get back home.  Medium grain rices like this are used everywhere in Japan, Korea and in Northern Thailand.

Bomba rice is a less sticky short grain rice grown in Spain and used for making paella. If you look at the picture above, it has perhaps the shortest grain of all.  Now I have been told by Spaniards that Calasparra rice is a higher quality rice for making paella but then I have not been able to find it myself.  So Bomba it is for me.  It’s strict development for paella means it absorbs a lot of liquid and is unusual for a shorter grain rice in that it is not sticky because of its high amylose content.  I have this rice exclusively for making paella so it never sees the inside of one of my rice cookers.  This is a rather expensive rice.

Arborio is a medium grain japonica cultivar grown in the Po valley region of Italy for over a century.  It is the most common rice used for making Risotto outside of Italy itself.  In fact, it is the rice most commonly used by cooks here in the United States to both make and teach others how to make risotto.  A couple years ago, I took some classes on making risotto at a Cooks Warehouse taught by 2 different experts both with slightly differing styles of preparation.  I have learned during those sessions that there are a number of other varieties of japonica cultivars also used (mainly in Italy itself) depending on the type of risotto being made.  All rices of this sort tend to be fat, short grains that absorb a lot of liquid and have a very starchy, powdery surface which helps form the creamy, sometimes thick soupy sauce when cooked with a broth or stock.  Like Bomba, this rice has a very specific purpose and does not get cooked in my rice cookers like the Asian varieties do.  If you look at the picture below, you can see three rices I ordered from Italy and Spain, all with their labels in the language of the producing country.  You gotta love Amazon!  Bringing the rest of the world to your doorstep for a nominal fee, hehe.  I like the Italian rices shown here because they are vacuum packed in a durable clear plastic shrink wrap that prevents individual grains from rubbing together and possibly breaking until you cut the package open.


Carnaroli rice is touted is being the king of risotto rices.  I can say from personal experience with it that it’s a lot more forgiving than Arborio and when I started learning to make risotto under the watchful eye of an experienced Italian mother and housewife, even she was surprised at how well I’d done on my first try.  I wasn’t going to tell her that I brought my own medium grain rice with me while the other students ladled chicken stock into cheaper Arborio provided by Cooks.  It’s hard to overcook if you use this rice and I personally like making hearty beef, shrimp or chicken based risotti with Carnaroli.  Like Arborio, this rice is grown in the Po valley region of Italy and does not belong in a rice cooker.

Vialone Nano rice is the last risotto rice grain I will treat here.  When matched up against Arborio, the grains appear tiny and it is obvious to the observant eye that it is the shortest of the three risotto kernels I have on display.  To me it is a delicate risotto rice that cooks more quickly than the other two varieties I have above which is good for gentle fish and crab stocks.  The rice is content to sit in the background and let the seasonings and broth have their way.  Now I don’t know if this next point I will bring up is true, but I have been told by more than one Italian risotto aficionado that the famous Gho risotto made in the Trattoria da Romano in Burano, Italy is made with Vialone Nano rice.  If so, it would make perfect sense to me as I have made some delicate herbed crab risotti using this rice and it makes that soupy, flowing gruel you can toss around in a pan and have it flow in waves across a plate when you serve it.  I never get tired of that visual effect and when I serve it.  I like to wait until my guests are seated at the table before plating so they can witness first hand, this hallowed communion of food and stoneware (Remember to warm the plate right beforehand as this heightens this showy effect).  I never seem to have leftovers with this stuff (which is a good thing with risotto because it does NOT reheat well.  You are better off forming the day old rice into balls and deep frying them).

Lastly, in the middle of the plate we have Minnesota wild rice which is not really a rice at all.  Harvested for centuries in Minnesota rivers by native Americans, these grains are tough and have to be cooked for a long time before enjoying.  It is grown and sold wholesale by native Americans living on reservations and as such, you can find it in most farmers markets or online.  The grains of this variety do not start to absorb liquid until the outer shell breaks open which takes almost 30 minutes in low boiling water to achieve.  I find these grains mix well with other rices for a diversionary texture, but you do not want to cook them together or your other rice will be mush.  I have added this rice to a risotto after it is cooked by itself and the risotto is nearly complete.  Typically at the end of the risotto mantecatura stage, I stir in the cooked wild rice and that gets good results.  Great flavor in the traditional risotto grains and a good bite with a moist crunch make for a more memorable meal.  After all, what good is dinner if you’re just duplicating what the corner pasta cafe can do?  If I am going to go that route (making a wild grain with risotto medley) I will use a 3 to 1 ratio of Italian to wild rice and I don’t even start the risotto cooking until the wild rice has been simmering in water for 25 minutes.  I have found that a brown rice cycle in a rice cooker is good for this wild rice when cooked by itself.


I’ll add one last word about rices and that is in storing them.  Many of the Asian rices I have depicted above come in large sacks (15-50 lbs in some cases).  I often buy 15-20 lb bags.  Once you open any rice packaging, you must store the unused product in an airtight container.  I like screw top jars best.  The reason for this is pointed.  In a word, Moths.  Little tiny waxy, dusty moths.  If there is even the tiniest pinprick of a hole in a bag or gap in a container top, moths will find it and lay eggs in it.  I can tell you from personal experience that opening a tupperware container that was not adequately sealed and finding squirming yellow-brown baby maggot moth larvae and white rice grains quivering on web strands when you’ve barely used what was in that $30 bag of Koshihikari you bought only a week before is infinitely frustrating.  Few things get my goat worse than throwing away 27 lbs of premium quality rice because I couldn’t protect my food stores.  My family won’t suffer me sifting the larvae out and keeping such rice either.  I have to discard the infected batch completely with extreme prejudice.  So with high quantity bags of rice I now use screw top jars exclusively.  Nothing gets into those.

In closing, as I mentioned before, this blog is primarily about cooking Asian dishes but is certainly not restricted to them.  I will talk about cooking paella and risotto in a some future posts as well which is why I treated those rices here in this article.  Going forward from here, I will start sharing my actual recipes.  I hope you enjoy them.