Mes amis, you have not lived if you have not had a good Valencian paella! Now, we need to be clear about one thing – paella is not a Spanish dish but a Valencian one (with Moorish influence if not origin). Forget that, and your cook might look at you like you come from some famine-stricken country and have never seen food! Spaniards take their food very seriously (as they should), and it is always good to know a little about what you eat.
A paella is basically a rice casserole. There are many kinds of paellas, but I have noticed Spaniards turn their noses up at certain combinations of ingredients. One such heresy is mixing meat, chorizo, and seafood, committed commonly across the United States. Nonetheless, the taste is spectacular, proving that not only is paella a simple dish to prepare, but it is also not easy to go wrong with it! So do not get frightened by the number of ingredients that might go into the dish, and if you are not used to Mediterranean cooking, don’t panic at the sound of exotic names – my first time with Spanish cuisine was also quite nerve-wracking and unnecessarily so!
Before we begin, I must emphasise the importance of using high quality ingredients and the appropriate utensils in making paella. While this is true for any dish, I have noticed that it is especially so when it comes to Pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika), the Spanish chorizo (do not use Mexican), and the saffron – it is just magic! Also, paella is cooked with calasparra or bomba rice, though the Italian arborio rice works almost as well. These short strains are good at absorbing the juices released while cooking and give the dish a rich and creamy flavour.
In terms of utensils, it is important to use a wide yet shallow pan so that the rice may simmer uniformly with the other ingredients. I personally prefer hammered copper pans as the metal distributes the heat exceptionally well, but you can find pans made from double gauge steel, carbon steel, and even simple stainless steel.
The recipe below would probably have the Spanish Inquisition on you in no time, for it also indulges in some heresy. Yet as I said earlier, it works! So as they say in Spain, buen provecho 🙂
- Chicken – 2 kgs (boneless is not a sin, but with bones is better)
- Shrimp – 500g, small or medium shelled shrimp
- Shrimp – 8 jumbo, in their shells
- Chorizo – 200g, in ¼-inch slices
- Jamón serrano ham – 200g, diced
- Clams and/or mussels – 18, scrubbed
- Rice – 3 cups (Calasparra, Bomba, or Arborio)
- Onion – 2; one small and peeled, one medium and chopped
- Scallions – 4, chopped
- Peas – 100g
- Piquillo peppers – 2, roasted (already wood-fire roasted brands are available)
- Garlic – 4 tablespoons, chopped
- Chicken bouillon – 6 cups, very strong
- Olive oil – ½ cup
- White wine – ½ cup, dry (a Chardonnay would do well)
- Saffron – ½ teaspoon
- Pimentón de la Vera – ¼ teaspoon
- Parsley – 5 tablespoons, chopped
- Bay leaves – 2, crumbled
- Salt to taste
Preparation time: 20 – 25 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Heat the bouillon with the saffron, pimentón, and the small, whole onion on a low flame for about 15 minutes. After it has thoroughly simmered, measure out 5½ cups.
- Cut the chickens into large bite-sized pieces. If you are using a whole chicken, discard the wing tips and the bony tip of the drumsticks. The breast can be cut into four pieces, the thighs into two pieces each, and the wing into two. Pat the pieces thoroughly dry, and sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Heat the olive oil in a large (paella) pan. Add the chicken pieces and fry on a high flame until golden. Remove from the pan, and add the chorizo and jamón; stir fry for about ten minutes.
- Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimentón to the meat in the pan. Saute on medium heat until the onion has turned thoroughly brown. Add the small or medium shrimps as well as the jumbo shrimps and continue to saute until the shrimp has turned slightly pink – about three to four minutes.
- Remove the shrimp from the pan and keep it aside. Now add the rice to the paella pan and stir well to coat it with the oil and juices from the previously cooked ingredients. Add the piquillo peppers too. Sprinkle the chopped parsley and crumbled bay leaves over the rice.
- In a separate pot, boil the bouillon and add it to the paella pan as the rice cooks – do not pour it all in at once but stir it in gently at a medium pace. Add the peas and the wine to the mix. Add salt to taste.
- Bring the whole mix to a boil, cooking uncovered and and stirring occasionally over a medium flame.
- Raise the heat to a high flame for about ten minutes. Keep stirring lest the rice at the bottom is burned, and insert the shrimp and chicken from earlier into the rice. Push the pieces in, so that they are completely buried in the rice.
- Embed the clams and the mussels into the rice as well, with the opening edge facing upwards.
- Now remove the pan from the stove top and insert into the oven to bake the entire dish at 325° F for 20 minutes. This process will develop a light crust on the bottom of the pan and add a thin layer of just slightly crispy rice. Keep the pan uncovered while baking.
- Remove your paella from the oven and let it sit, partially covered, for about ten minutes. Decorate with chopped parsley if desired and serve.
Serve with crusty bread and a nice medium-bodied red such as a Rioja.
I am surprised at the response this recipe has received from people and that too so quickly. While many have enjoyed it, there are a large number of vegetarians who feel they have been discriminated against 🙂 and have demanded a meatless, fishless version. Some have also asked if there is a version that does not use wine. People – where is the love, where is the fun?
Since I have many vegetarian friends, I have had to learn to adjust down from perfection to fit their palate! So here are the changes required to make the above dish suitable for even losers who can’t hunt, fish, or ride!
- Vegetable bouillon – 4 cubes
- Tomatoes – 6 – 8 large, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- Zucchini – 2, medium-sized and cubed
- Capsicum – 4; 2 red and 2 green, large; cored, seeded and chopped
- Cannellini – 450g, rinsed and drained
- Artichoke hearts – 2 cups, outer leaves removed and quartered
Honestly, you can put almost any vegetable combination you want – I have seen paellas with shiitake mushrooms, aubergines, broccoli (?!)…the possibilities are endless. The same is true for the beans – while I usually use cannellini (white kidney beans), people use butter beans, great northern beans, and runner beans instead. My rule of thumb is to substitute each meat with a vegetable, thus maintaining some sort of balance between the rice base and the other ingredients.
- Basically, remove all the meat items and substitute them with the vegetables you want.
- Substitute the chicken broth for vegetarian broth.
- Cook the onions, piquillo peppers, and capsicum in the olive oil on medium-low flame for about ten minutes or until they are all tender; the onion should be a translucent golden brown.
- Add the zucchini, tomatoes, artichokes, garlic, saffron, and paprika to the paella pan. Allow to simmer for another ten minutes.
- Add the rice and the hot broth to the vegetable stew. Cook on medium-low flame for about five minutes.
- Add the cannellini beans to the rice. Stir them in thoroughly and simmer for another five minutes on low flame.
- Remove the pan from the flame and cover lightly with aluminium foil. Set the oven at 350° F and put the pan in for about ten minutes. You might want to leave it in for slightly longer to allow the rice to absorb the liquid.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit uncovered for five minutes. Decorate with chopped parsley if desired and serve.