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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday Recipe - Paella with guest Sue Burke

I'm turning my spatula over to Sue Burke for today's recipe - Paella!

Authentic Spanish paella

Since I live in Spain and like to cook, sometimes I get asked 1) if I make paella and 2) what "authentic" paella is. The answers: 1) yes, fairly often,  and 2) tasty.

Paella started out as a humble dish a thousand years ago. People in Valencia made it for their mid-day meal as they were out laboring in the fields. They put a wide, shallow metal pan over an open wood fire to cook their rice, adding whatever vegetables, meat, or other ingredients they had.

The name of the cooking pan comes from the Latin word "patella," the platter on which Romans offered sacrifices to the gods. A pan 40 centimeters/16 inches wide is best for 4 or 5 servings, 50 centimeters/20 inches wide for 6 to 8 servings.

Over time, the recipes became more formal. Extravagant seafood paellas impress tourists and are great for festive dinners. Any Spanish cook knows three or four recipes and can improvise a lot more: paella is more a technique than a recipe, as elaborate or simple as you want. You can include fish, lobster, shrimp, clams, squid, pork, beef, chicken livers, chicken, rabbit, beans, tomatoes, sausages, peas, chard, artichokes, red or green pepper, celery, artichokes, mushrooms — or whatever else seems tasty to you. Vegan, veggie, carnivore, locavore, or omnivore.

To demonstrate the cooking technique, here's the recipe for Valencian paella to serve 6 or 8. If you don't have a paella pan, you can substitute a wok or large frying pan. The recipe calls for garrafó beans, a small white kidney bean, and tavella beans, which are large flat tender white beans, found in Valencia. You may have to find local substitutes. Also, the local Valencian green bean is the wide, flat variety, but round ones, which are common in the US but rare in Spain, would work fine.

Medium grain rice is best. Good rice is the secret of paella — although there is a variation that uses noodles, but now we're getting too complex for one blog post.

You can also vary this paella recipe to suit your tastes. Every cook has secrets. I definitely leave out the snails and usually only use chicken, although rabbits are readily for sale here in Spain. I add garlic, cumin, and a bay leaf, leave out the green pepper but add a lot more green beans, and use a tomato or onion only if I have them around. Cooks on a budget sometimes substitute yellow food coloring for the saffron, although the saffron adds a subtle, delicious aroma. Chicken broth is a good idea.

You can also cook paella over on grill at a picnic, and a fire is ideal if you're using a wide pan. And very authentic.

1-3/4 lbs. chicken, in pieces
1 lb. rabbit, in pieces
12 snails
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 lb. green beans, cut up
1/3 cup small dry white beans
1/4 cup large flat dry white beans
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
5 cups of water or broth
salt to taste
pinch of saffron
2-1/2 cups rice

Precook the white beans separately. Fry the chicken and rabbit in the olive oil in the paella pan. When browned, add the onion and green pepper, and cook briefly. Add the tomato, snails, green beans, and cook another 10 minutes. Add the precooked beans and water and cook another 10 minutes. Add the rice, salt, and saffron. Stir well, but do not stir again. (Really, don't.) Cook uncovered over high heat for 10 minute, then lower the heat, do not cover, and cook for about 10 minutes more until almost all of the water has been absorbed and the rice has almost finished cooking. Remove from heat and cover with a lid, aluminum foil, or towel, and let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

This is a forgiving recipe. If you use too little water, you can add more, or if you used too much, you can cook it a little longer so it evaporates. But do not stir the paella. Ideally, the rice has developed a bit of a browned crust on the sides and bottom. If you decide to make a more elaborate paella, you can artfully place shrimp, clams in their shell, strips of red pepper, etc., on top of the rice after you add it to the water, and they will rise up and look lovely at the end.

Arroz SOS, a popular Spanish brand of rice, has a slightly varied Valencian paella recipe on its website, along with a video of it being made a handsome chef — in Spanish, of course:

— Sue Burke

Mmm, my mouth is watering. I'm going to have to round up the ingredients to make this. I'm also sticking a copy in my husband's Dutch Oven recipe book. And handsome Spanish chefs? I don't speak a word of Spanish but I love listening to him talk. 

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