Spanish rice dish has many variations
By Courtney Taylor
Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
|Paella is prepared with saffron-hued rice and a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables.
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Paella (pronounced "pa-AY-ya") is the home cook's answer to an easy, fast and chic meal. The most universal of all Spanish dishes, paella appears on many menus and in many guises resembling similar rice dishes (stir-fry, jambalaya and pilaf).
Even in the rice-growing province of Valencia where the dish originated, paella can vary from town to town and from cook to cook. Yet, there are certain guidelines that, if followed, can give the dish a genuine Spanish taste and influence.
The first thing you'll need is the proper equipment. In his book "Catalan Cuisine" (Harvard Common Press, $14.95), Coleman Andrews explains the importance of the paella pan, "a wide, flat metal dish with two ear-shaped handles. It is generally considered all but a necessity for the proper preparation of the great rice specialty that bears its name, and indeed its shape is perfect for making the dish allowing even evaporation of the cooking liquid and exposing a large quantity of rice to the surface of the pan, where it can form the so-called socarrat, a lightly burnt bottom crust much prized by paella aficionados. A pan 14 or 15 inches in diameter is sufficient to make a paella for four to six people."
Andrews, also editor of Saveur magazine, goes on to say that paella masters insist upon cooking the dish over an open fire, or at the very least, a gas burner.
Chef Luis Bruno, of Bruno's Eclectic Cuisine in Jackson, Miss., agrees.
"Paella is on our menu always. . . . We have about 600 paella pans and of course, gas burners, but I have made it at home on an electric stove," he says. Many chefs insist upon a short- or medium-grain rice and preferably Valencia rice from Spain.
However you can use jasmine (short-grain Japanese rice) or arborio (Italian risotto rice)," Bruno says. "It should be somewhat the consistency of risotto, it should be creamy with a nice brown crust on the outside. It's not fluffy," he adds. Use olive oil in paella recipes (Spanish is good but not necessary). You will also want chicken, good chicken or fish stock, chopped onion, chopped tomatoes, some sort of bean or pea (flat green beans or limas are commonly used in Spain) and saffron. Types of sausage and seafood can vary if added at all.
You can use chorizo, a spicy Italian sausage or andouille," Bruno says. Select seafood based on what is in season in your area.
Andrews writes that the most historically and traditionally correct Paella Valencia is "nothing more than little hunks or rabbit and chicken, some broad greens and pale yellow butter beans, a hint of tomato and onion, more than a hint of tomato and onion, more than a hint of saffron, and rice, rice, rice."
Clearly, the cooking method has as much to do with the correct marriage of flavors and consistency as the ingredients. Commonly, a little olive oil is heated in a paella pan over a medium flame and the chicken and/or rabbit pieces are sauteed first.
The chicken is removed to drain and the sausage is then sauteed in the same oil, then removed to drain. The seafood is also sauteed in the same oil, then removed and set aside. Then the onion is added and allowed to cook until nicely golden, then the tomatoes and a little stock are added and brought to a boil.
The heat is lowered and the tomatoes are cooked until melted. More stock is added and stirred a bit to deglaze the pan, then brought to a boil. At this point the saffron (some also add minced garlic and parsley here) is added along with the cooked chicken, sausage, seafood, salt and rice.
The dish is allowed to cook over medium heat without stirring for about 20 minutes. A nice brown crust should form as it does with fried corn. Cook until the rice is done and the liquid has evaporated. After the crust has formed, you can cover the dish and finish it in a 350-degree oven. It should be allowed to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
The vegetables in paella should be very soft and almost integrated into the rice. The rice should be sticky and tender and full of the flavors from the other ingredients, but it should not have a pudding consistency.
Paella recipes include vegetables, seafood
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Experiment with these paella recipes:
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/4 (of a 9-ounce) package frozen baby artichokes, thawed, quartered
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 11/2 cups paella rice, arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
- 3 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
- 2 cups chopped escarole or chard
- 1 cup drained canned ready-cut tomatoes
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
- 1/2 cup shelled fresh peas or frozen peas
Bring water to a boil in small saucepan. Add saffron, cover and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes.
Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and onion and saute until onion is golden, about 8 minutes. Add artichokes and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Add chicken stock, escarole and tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add saffron water, paprika and salt.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Mix beans and peas into rice, cover and continue cooking mixture until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. Let stand 5 minutes and serve.
Paella Valenciana and Mariscos
- 2 pounds chicken, cut into small serving pieces
- Olive oil
- 5 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 12 mussels, cleaned
- 1/2 pound shrimp and/or small prawns (scampi), head and shells on
- 1/2 to 3/4 pound assorted white beans, butter beans and Italian-style broad beans or string beans
- 1 tomato, seeded and grated (or 1 tomato peeled, seeded and chopped)
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 6 to 8 threads saffron, lightly toasted
- 1 1/3 pounds short-grain rice
In a paella pan, or other wide, flat-bottomed pan, saute the chicken pieces in a small amount of oil until golden-brown, then remove them, drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Pour off excess fat from the paella pan, then add the mussels and shrimp, beans, tomato and paprika, and stir well.
Add the stock, return chicken to pan and simmer for 10 minutes, then crumble saffron into pan, and salt to taste.
Stir in the rice, then cook over a medium-high flame without stirring for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is done and the liquid has evaporated. (Do not allow the rice to burn; a dark brown crust on the bottom and sides of the pan, however, is desirable.)
When paella is finished, carefully arrange the mussels and shrimp on top of rice, using tongs and being careful not to leave the rice uneven (top should be flat); then let stand 5-10 minutes off heat before serving.