Saturday, January 18, 2014

Paella ~ Valencia's Famous Dish

While most of us think of paella as Spain's national dish, most Spaniards think of the popular meal as being from Valencia.

Julian's Lobster-Shrimp Paella - for 2-3 persons
Shown in my 13 inch pan. 
Valencia, a region within Spain, was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. The city is situated on the banks of the Turia river, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Its historic city center is now one of the largest in Spain, containing ancient monuments, great views and cultural attractions, making Valencia one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.  If you are going to Spain be sure to give Valencia some time on your schedule.

The term paella actually refers to the specialized flat, wide pan in which the meal is cooked. Spain is not known for forests so the small available twigs and branches from pruning made for a quick hot fire instead of a slow burning one from logs. So the size of the pan grew in width instead of depth that maximum evaporation over a shorter lived hot fire.  After the Arabs introduced rice to Spain, the peasants of Valencia are reported to have used used the paella pan to cook rice with easily available ingredients from the countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails. On special occasions rabbit, duck, chicken and sausages were included. The popular seafood versions are actually a more modern addition. Paella is said to to be a union of two cultures from Spain; the Romans for the pan and the Arabs that introduced rice. By the end of the nineteenth century 'Paella Valenciana' had established itself and has become popular worldwide.

Julian's Clam and Sausage Paella
While I give you a classic recipe below, as shown above, you can really use any meats or seafoods you enjoy. As I had clams available I just paired them with sausage. Clams and mussels can be cooked right in the paella. Add them during the last 5-10 minutes of rice cooking after you stir in the peas, and they will open up just as the rice is ready. Make sure your cooking lid to does not inhibit the clams/mussels from opening. You can use foil as well.

Quick Preparation Tip:  If you are making this for a weeknight dinner, as I often do, you can substitute the short grain rice for a quick cooking seasoned rice like Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice. An 8 ounce bag will fill a classic paella pan (12-13 inches wide) like mine above. As it is pre-seasoned and cooks in under 30 minutes, it's great when you need to prepare the meal quickly.

Special equipment:
Large paella pan (18 inches)

Ingredients (serves 6-8 adults)
Paella at a restaurant in Sitges, Spain
2-3-pounds chicken, cut into bit-size pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
BBQ Rub for the chicken
2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 medium chopped carrot (optional)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes
        drained and hand-crushed
2 cups Spanish rice (Bomba preferred)
5 1/2 cups broth*, room temperature
Generous pinch saffron threads
1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 lobster tails, cut in half
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

*Broth:  I typically use a chicken broth for the above recipe. If making only a seafood paella with no meat, use a seafood/shellfish broth. Vegetable broth can also be used. Whatever broth you use should be flavorful and compliment the flavors of the ingredients.

Give the chicken a good rub with my BBQ mix or any one of your choosing. Let the chicken absorb the rub while you prepare the vegetables and other ingredients, for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heat half the oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the sausage until browned, remove and reserve. Add the remaining oil and add chicken (skin-side down if using) and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.

In the same pan, make a sofrito by sauteing the onions and garlic in the meat drippings. Cook for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat stirring regularly. Add the optional chopped carrots and cook while stirring another 2 minutes. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Fold in the rice and stir to coat the grains. Pour in broth, stir to combine and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. You do not need to cover the pan or stir the rice while cooking. Add the chicken, chorizo, saffron and smoked paprika by dispersing it evenly throughout the mixture. Cook for 10 minutes more. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. Cover with lid or foil insuring the clams have room to open. They will take about 8 minutes to cook. Uncover and give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, which should take about 15 minutes longer. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails and the peas. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and tender (taste), turn the heat up for 30 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom.  The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom crust called socarrat.

Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro lemon wedges.

Julian's Plated Paella

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