Picture yourself in an orange grove in Valencia. You are taking refuge from the heat under the deep green foliage of the trees adorned with amber spheres. Across the orchard wafts the delicious smell of garlic and saffron mingled with wood smoke. This is how paella was traditionally cooked.
Originally, it was cooked by labourers in a large flat pan (sometimes referred to as a paellera) in the open over a fire. It was a frugal dish of rice and seasonal vegetables with a bit of chicken, rabbit or even snails thrown in for good measure. The paella would be eaten straight from the pan by the hungry workers. Over the years the dish (and the theories surrounding it’s origins) has become more elaborate but one thing remains the same. It is a meal to be shared with family, friends and even strangers (as the SaucyCooks warn you should only make it if you actively want company). There is no pomp and circumstance with paella. You just dig in and savour the different flavours.
I ate my first paella in Madrid where Billy and I had gone for our first weekend away. It was during a period of my life where I didn’t eat meat so Billy and I opted for a seafood version. Although the presentation of paella is not to be fussed over I think it is one of the most beautiful dishes in the world. I still remember the squid rings, mussels and clams nestled among the glistening golden grains of rice studded with red and green pepper diamonds. On top lay spiky langoustines and crab claws. We had only been dating a short while and were perhaps still a little self conscious about carefree eating. All efforts to be demure during this meal went out of the window as we ravenously devoured the paella sucking the salty meat from the langoustine legs and crab claws and going back for multiple helpings of the saffron infused rice.
At the airport I couldn’t resist buying a book devoted to paella. The authors, Maria and Natalia Solis Ballinger, say “nearly every region of Spain, and indeed, practically every household, now has its own version of paella.” Their also book includes a wonderful vegetarian version served with a walnut pesto. Therefore, I feel vindicated that, while I make no claims to the following recipe being traditional or authentic, it is my own version of the Spanish classic. Now I’m back in the carnivorous fold it includes chicken (ideally, I would use rabbit but it isn’t readily available at present. As I was informed the other day rabbits are doing what rabbits do best during the summer months!), chorizo and seafood. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients but the end result is worth it. In a departure from the traditional way of cooking it on the stove top I put mine in the oven. This method has always worked well for me but feel free to do yours on the hob (or over a fire!) if you prefer!
Don’t forget to check out the SaucyCooks coq au vin. http://saucycooks.com/uncategorized/coq-au-vin/#comment-1632
- 75ml Fino sherry
- Generous pinch of saffron
- 800ml chicken stock
- 400g chicken breast, skinless and boneless
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 each of red, green and yellow pepper, deseeded and diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 200g cooking chorizo, outer skin removed and cut into large dice
- 400g paella rice
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp sumac
- 1 tbsp sun dried tomato paste
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 300g mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
- 300g clams, scrubbed and cleaned
- 6 baby squid or 2 medium squid, prepared and including the tentacles, cut into rings
- 150g shelled raw tiger prawns
- 100g frozen peas
- 8 large prawns, heads and shells intact
- Salt and pepper to season
- Stir the saffron into the sherry and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- Bring the chicken stock to the boil in a saucepan. Cover and leave to simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Cut the chicken into largish chunks. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large oven proof frying pan or shallow casserole. Fry the chicken pieces until they are brown on each side. Remove from the pan and reserve until later.
- Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan the add the peppers and onion. Cook until the onion has softened then add the garlic and chorizo sausage. Cook until the chorizo is starting to colour.
- Add the rice, smoked paprika, cumin and sumac. Cook until the rice it is translucent. Pour in the sherry infused with saffron and the sun dried tomato paste. Cook until the sherry has been absorbed, stirring to prevent the rice from sticking.
- Add the chicken to the pan followed by the rosemary and hot chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Give the rice mixture a quick stir before placing the mussels and clams on top.
- Place the paella in the oven on the lowest shelf and bake, uncovered for 15 minutes. After this time, remove the pan from the oven and quickly stir in the squid rings, raw tiger prawns and frozen peas. Arrange the large prawns on top of the paella and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes (still uncovered), or until or the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is al dente.
- Discard any mussels and clams that have failed to open. Serve immediately straight from the pan.