Let’s Talk Food: Spanish Paella, a great one-dish meal

The last time we were in Spain, I went to the kitchen of the hotel and worked with the chef, making a seafood paella for the staff. Originally, paella was made at lunchtime for the farmers and laborers. The workers would gather together what was available like tomatoes, onions, rabbit and duck to make this dish.

The chef made me cut the onions for the sofrito, and watched over me while I finished the dish for the workers.

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At the end of lunch, he handed me his paella pan for me to take back home as well as several bottles of saffron.

Needless to say, I hand carried it home as it did not fit in my suitcase!

Paella gets its name because of that traditional pan, the one we carried home from Spain, as “paella” means “frying pan.”

The paella pan is essential to create a toasted rice bottom or socarrat, or what a Japanese would call “koge gohan.”

It is believed that the first paella came from the Valencia region, consisting of short grain rice, an assortment of green beans, peas, rabbit, chicken, or duck, butter or lima beans, and cooked in olive oil and chicken broth. It gets its yellow color from the saffron.

When replaced with seafood, it is called “paella de marisco” or seafood paella, and omits the green beans and green vegetables. “Paella mixta” or mixed paella combines meat with seafood, vegetables and sometimes beans.

Chef Tyler Florence’ Ultimate Paella recipe is a good guide to a perfect paella.

The Ultimate Paella

Chef Tyler Florence

Serves 6

Combine in a small bowl:

1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika

2 teaspoons oregano

Rub the spice mix all over the chicken and marinate for one hour in the refrigerator:

1 (3 pound) frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces

Heat in a paella pan over medium-high heat, saute until browned:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly slices (you can also use Portuguese sausage)

Add marinated chicken, skin side down and brown on all sides

Remove from the pan and reserve.

In same pan, make a sofrito:

1 round onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed or pressed

Bunch of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserving some for garnish

Cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add:

1 (15 ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed

Cook until mixture caramelizes and flavors meld. Fold in and stir-fry to coat the grains:

4 cups short-grain rice (you can use Calrose rice)

Pour and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid:

6 cups warm water

Add the cooked chicken, chorizo, and:

1 teaspoon saffron threads

Salt and pepper to taste

Add, tucking them under the rice:

1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

Cook for 8 minutes

Shake the pan and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes.

When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds, until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom to form the socarrat.

Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with:

1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed

Lemon wedges

Parsley

• • •

If you prefer to make a vegetarian paella, try this one instead.

Vegetable Paella

Serves 6

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut in wedges and place in a medium bowl, season with salt, drizzle with olive oil and toss:

8 vine-ripened plum tomatoes

Heat in a paella pan over medium-high heat:

1/4 cup olive oil

Add, and season with salt:

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-1/2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon saffron threads

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

Add and cook until lightly browned on one side, 5 minutes:

1 large fennel bulb, cut into 8 wedges

Flip the fennel and add to the pan:

1 large Japanese eggplant, cut into 2-inch pieces

Cook until tender, 4 more minutes. Add and cook 2 minutes:

4 ounces button mushrooms

Pour in and cook until reduced to one-third:

2 cups dry white wine

Stir in:

2-1/2 cups short-grain rice (calrose rice works)

1-3/4 teaspoon salt

Add just enough water to cover the rice completely, 2-1/2 to 3 cups.

Increase the heat to high, boil for 3 minutes. Scatter over the rice;

4 ounces haricots verts or string beans, halved

2 tablespoons capers, drained

Remove the pan from the heat and arrange on the top:

Tomatoes in salt, olive oil

Drizzle with any tomato juice.

Transfer the paella pan to the oven and bake, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. Scatter over paella:

2 tablespoons drained capers

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1/4 cup roasted red peppers, cut into strips

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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