As odd as it may seem, during my semester abroad in Spain, I only had paella once and it was not at my native host family’s house! Although my host mom was a pretty good cook (her croquetas de jamon were to die for), she never really cooked a lot of Spanish food for my roommate and I. This was most likely due to the fact that the kitchen was miniscule (envision a closet complete with a small refrigerator and an even smaller stove; in fact I don’t remember her ever using the stove as one time I peeked in and there were dishes from lunch that had been placed in it). However, I remedied my lack of paella consumption when my dad came to visit. I took us to a highly recommend hole in the wall restaurant that served nothing but paella and to drink, homemade sangria, wine or beer. The paella was excellent especially since we could order the carne (meat) version which did include every tentacled creature known to man.
A couple of years ago while shopping in T.J. Maxx I came across a paella pan in their housewares department. Paella is an old Catalan word which derives from the old French word paelle for pan which in turn comes from the Latin word patella for pan as well. Valencians (the people of the region where paella is said to have originated) use the word paella for all pans but in the rest of the Spanish speaking word paellera is used to describe the pan that cooks paella. Paelleras are usually round, shallow, made of polished steel and feature two handles. As the paellera only cost $8 I bought it of course and for more than a year and a half, it sat in a drawer in my kitchen where it was never used until this past weekend.
The key ingredient in paella is the saffron, the spice used to make the rice in the paella yellow. If you’re not familiar with saffron, it is one of the most expensive spices in the world (I paid $8 for 1/2 gram). I bought some when I visited Morocco but needless to say, my supply had run out six years later. Although you might think that it’s ridiculous to spend that much on a spice and for such a small amount, it is worth it as saffron also gives the rice in the paella such a distinct and almost calming taste.
Paella can be somewhat time consuming to make since you fry/cook the meats, shellfish, and vegetables separately; however, it really is a simple dish to prepare.
Just a few things to note:
-Although the recipe called for mussels, prawns, chorizo, and pork fillet, I omitted all of those things and made it with just shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. Paella can also be the perfect vegetarian dish when made with just vegetables.
–Paella is traditionally cooked outdoors on a wide bed of hot charcoal; however, if your liviving arranagements are anything like mine where outdoor cooking is not an option any time of the year, it turned out just fine being baked in the oven too.
-If you can’t find paella rice, substitute with short-grained rice
My first time of making paella was a great success and I will definitely make it again in the future, preferably when I have time to make some tapas too.
6 tbsp white wine
1 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed
1 cup small shelled broad (fava) beans
6 tbsp olive oil
6 small skinless, boneless chicken breast portions, cut into large pieces
5 oz pork fillet, cubed
12 smaller raw prawns
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 3/4 cups chicken stock
pinch of saffron threads (0.25 grams), soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
1 3/4 cups paella rice, washed and drained
8 oz. frying chorizo, sliced
1 cup peas
salt, paprika and black pepper
Heat the wine and add the mussels, discarding any that do not close when tapped. Cover and steam until opened. Reserve the liquid and mussels separately, discarding any that do not open.
Briefly cook the broad beans and green beans in boiling water, then drain. Pop the broad beans out of their skins.
Heat 3 tbsp oil in a large paella pan or wide flameproof casserole. Season the chicken with salt and paprika, and put in, skin downwards. Fry, turning until browned on all sides. Reserve on a plate. Season the pork with salt and paprika. Add 1 tbsp oil and fry the seasoned pork until browned evenly. Reserve with the chicken. Fry the prawns briefly in the same pan, but reserve them separately.
Heat the remaining oil and fry the onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Add the red pepper, cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and parsley and cook until thick.
If cooking in the oven preheat to 375F. Stir the chicken stock, the reserved mussel liquid, and the saffron liquid into the vegetables. Season well with salt and pepper and bring the mixture to the boil. When the liquid is bubbling, throw in all the rice. Stir once, thenm add the chicken pieces, pork, shellfish, beans, chorizo, and peas.
Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 15-18 minutes until the rice is done. Arrange the mussels on top. Cover with a lid (or damp dishtowel) and leave to stand for 10 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. Serve straight from the pan.