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
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.

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 like mine above perfectly. 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 or wide shallow skillet

Paella at a restaurant in Sitges, Spain
1 (3-pound) frying chicken, cut into 10 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
Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped,
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
4 cups short grain Spanish rice
6 cups water, warm
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 lobster tails
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Lemon wedges, for serving

Give the chicken a good rub with my BBQ mix or any one of your choosing.   Let the chicken absorb the rub for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the sausage until browned, remove and reserve. Add chicken skin-side down 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, garlic, and parsley. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on a medium heat. 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-fry to coat the grains. Pour in water and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add chicken, chorizo, and saffron and heat through for 10 minutes. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. The shrimp will take about 8 minutes to cook. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, which should take about 15 minutes. 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 moist, 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 called socarrat.

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

Julian's Plated Paella

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