Susan, the happiest cook I know!
Perhaps no Spanish dish is more renowned than paella. Originating in the Valencia region, it is named for the large, round, shallow pan in which the dish is prepared. Paella always begins with a base of saffron-infused, short-grain Spanish rice to which endless combinations of vegetables, seafood, poultry and meat are added. In some areas of Spain, tradition holds that only men can make the paella. They can be seen stirring huge pans of it on the town square, stirring it with long wooden paddles that look like boat oars.
One of the things that I find most intriguing about paella is that it is unique to each and every family, somewhat like gumbo is. It's never exactly the same and it morphs over time, a little more of "this" or a little less of "that", though always more delicious.
This was, as Susan would say, "to die for" and believe me, it was.
1/4 tsp saffron threads
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 C chicken stock, gently simmering, divided (or more as needed)
2 T Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium white or yellow onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 T Spanish smoked paprika
2 bay leaves (preferably Turkish)
2 T capers, drained
1 pound Spanish chorizo, *very thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 C pitted Spanish olives, or more to taste
2 C imported Spanish short-grain rice (or Arborio rice)
1/2 C dry white wine, of drinkable quality
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 dozen fresh clams,**scrubbed well (OPTIONAL)
1 dozen fresh or frozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded (OPTIONAL)
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound of fresh Grouper, cut into large chunks
1 can artichokes, drained and quartered
1 C peas (fresh or frozen)
1/4 C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 roasted red bell peppers,*** cut into julienne
1. Pound the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle, then dissolve in 1/4 cup simmering chicken stock; set aside until needed.
2. Heat a very wide casserole or paella pan over medium-high heat; add the olive oil and heat through. Stir in the onions and cook until translucent, then add the oregano, paprika, bay leaves, capers, chorizo and olives; cook 2 to 3 minutes, then add garlic. do not let garlic burn. Add the rice and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly to coat each grain with oil.
3. Add the wine, scraping up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan (deglaze), then add the lemon juice and dissolved saffron mixture.
4. Spread the rice so that it blankets the bottom of the pan, then add 4 cups of the stock. Bring to the boil over high heat and cook just until the rice begins to appear above the liquid, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. cover the pan, then reduce the heat to a low simmer; cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes more. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If necessary, add a bit more stock.
5. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, (then add the clams to the pan, nesting them in the rice. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the mussels) then add shrimp. Attractively arrange the mussels and clams around the perimeter of the pan. Do not stir the mussels and clams into the paella.
6. Pour the peas over the top, then cover the pan again. After about 5 minutes, remove the lid and discard any unopened mussels or clams. Incorporate the peas and shrimp into the rice mixture, stirring all the way to the bottom. Garnish with parsley and roasted red pepper strips.
Tips and Techniques:
*Chorizo is a highly spiced sausage. It is available at many grocery stores or online at www.tienda.com.
**To purge Clams: Because clams live in sand, they must first be purged of sand and/or any impurities before cooking. If the fish market has not already purged them, you can purge them yourself. To purge clams, place them in a large bowl, then cover with a solution of 1 cup salt to 3 quarts cool water; sprinkle with 3 Tablespoons of cornmeal. Place the bowl, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour. After purging, gently lift the clams out of the salt water, and place in a colander; rinse under cool running water to remove and remaining impurities. Scrub with a stiff kitchen brush before proceeding with the recipe.
***To Roast Peppers: Char the peppers over a gas flame on the stove or under the broiler, turning to ensure the skin blisters evenly. Place the blistered peppers in a covered container (or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap) and cool. When cool enough to handle, peel off the dark skins and remove the stem and seeds.
Make It Light: Reduce the olive oil to have of the specified amount, and omit the sausage.
Make It Ahead: Complete the dish through Step 2 up to 4 hours in advance. Prepare the remaining ingredients to finish the dish. When you are ready, proceed with Step 3.
We love you Susan!
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