Sunday Dinner: Spanish Paella

Spanish food (especially tapas) is really popular these days and I love making the different dishes at home or for parties.  I often thought about the idea of making paella, but was intimidated by the huge array of ingredients, as well as the difficulty of actually making it.  It must take forever right?

WRONG!

I'm here to tell you:  it's not as complicated as it seems and it's a GREAT meal for company or for a special occasion.  It's almost easier than making risotto (although a touch pricier).  The only special equipment you need is a paella pan, so I stopped at Cost Plus World Market to pick one up (find it here for $15) a couple of days before I needed it. (Make sure to follow the directions on the pan on how to prepare it and clean/store it.) 

Then I had to find a recipe that I liked.  I looked at A LOT of recipes online until I found one written by Tyler Florence that I thought was simple yet still included all the flavors and ingredients I wanted.  The great thing about paella is you can use as many or as few proteins as you like.  You could even make it vegetarian if you swing that way.  It's completely customize-able.   So I took Tyler's recipe and made it my own.  I decided to use mussels, chicken thighs, chorizo (Spanish sausage) and shrimp.  You could keep it to one meat and one seafood and it would totally still be awesome (and more affordable).  You could even do just meat, no seafood (for you seafood haters out there).  You could add artichokes, peppers, capers.  The possibilities are endless.

My "company" for my first trial of paella was Dad Rick, on his annual stopover on the way to Florida (he's a snowbird), and a few friends. The "occasion" was the 2014 Oscars.  To keep everyone occupied while I made the paella I put together tapas of manchego and Valdeón cheeses with some chorizo, jamón, smoked almonds and olives.  Jealous? Check it out:

 

Mmmm...meats and cheeses

Onto the paella...

Ingredients:

1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil (if you want to be really authentic use Spanish olive oil)
1 Spanish onion (that's a big yellow onion), diced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 - 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 cups short grain rice (I used arborio)
6 cups warm water
Generous pinch of saffron threads (pick this up when you get your paella pan at World Market - that's probably the cheapest place to find it; if not, I found Badia brand at the supermarket for $5)
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed
Lemon wedges, for serving

These are the proteins that I used:
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut in half to make 8 pieces
1 Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced into rounds or on the bias
1 lb. frozen large shrimp, thawed and peeled
1 lb. cleaned and debearded black mussels (I got at Whole Foods for like $3)

You could also use any combination of the above and/or:
- Lobster tails
- Littleneck clams
- Squid (i.e. calamari)

Here we go: First thing you need to do is mix together the paprika and oregano in a medium bowl -- this is the spice mix that will marinate your chicken.  Rub the mixture all over the chicken and marinate (covered) for about an hour in the fridge.

Once that's ready, heat the olive oil in the paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the sausage until browned on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside.  Next add the chicken pieces to the oil and brown on all sides turning with tongs (you don't have to cook it ALL the way through -- just brown it. The chicken will finish cooking when you return it to the dish later).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then remove from heat and set aside with the sausage.

Make a Sofrito: [This is the part of the story where you learn stuff:  in Spanish cooking when you saute together onions, garlic and tomatoes you are making a "sofrito" which is the base of a lot of Spanish dishes.  In Cajun and Creole cooking it's called the "holy trinity" and includes onions, celery and peppers.  In French cooking, it's called "mirepoix" (celery, onions, carrots) and in Italian, "soffritto" (carrots, onions and celery with some garlic).  How 'bout that for a little 411?]

Anyway, back to it: To make your sofrito, add the garlic, onions and tomatoes to the pan over medium heat with a good handful of the chopped parsley (leave enough for garnish at the end).  Saute until all the onions are soft and caramelized and the flavors have time to blend together.  Fold the dry rice into the sofrito until all the grains are coated.  Pour in the warm water and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks in an even layer and absorbs the liquid.

At this point, add the reserved chicken and sausage to the pan and incorporate into the rice.  Also add the saffron and make sure everything's combined well.  Let it all simmer about 5 minutes, without stirring.  After the 5 minutes, add the seafood (I used mussels and shrimp) by tucking it under the rice (there's no lid on this thing) and simmer away for another 10 minutes or until your mussels open up completely and your shrimp is pink.

When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up to med-high to high for about 40 seconds to lightly toast the bottom layer of the paella (another teachable moment:  this toasty rice bottom is called "socarrat").   Remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes.  Then add the peas, the rest of the parsley and  the lemon wedges and serve it right in the middle of your table or dish it out into individual dishes.

Makes about 6 servings. Cooking time = about 40 minutes

¡Buen provecho!