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Paella

Posted by jwpiper on December 31, 2008

I’ve had many-a-paella over the last decade or so – in Cleveland, other places in the USA, and even in Spain. It was always a meal with almost unmatchable potential in my mind. In every case, I was disappointed. I’ve never actually had a paella at a restaurant that I was impressed with – not even close.

Then, I decided on day that I would try it myself. I’m not the best cook, but I can get something done with a few tries. So I figured, we’d eat a paella no worse that I’ve had in restaurants the first time and then by the second time it should be pretty good. I decided to do an American interpretation of a Mexican-Spanish fusion paella. It would include good Mexican-style chorizo, some prawns, and then traditional Spanish ingredients: softrito, pimentón, saffron, and medium short-grain paella rice.

Well, it turned out delicious the first time. I made it again last night for some guests (Matt G. and Gretchen), but this time with Spanish chorizo. My wife missed the spiciness of the Mexican chorizo, but I thought it was a little more subtle, but plenty worthy. The picture is actually of my second or third time making it – it’s something of a seldom-made standby for us at this point. My recipe is below, with credits largely to José Andrés for inspiration. Indeed, I would have given up on Spanish cooking for good by now if it weren’t for him.

Paella

Ingredients:
2 lbs uncooked head-on prawns
1.5 lbs chorizo
1/2 cup sofrito
1/2 cup mushrooms
2 cups Spanish bomba rice (or other medium short-grained rice)
4 cups shrimp stock
1/4 cup green beans (or peas)
2 tbsp Spanish olive oil
saffron
serves 4

Preparation:
Clean whole head-on prawns, reserving their shells and heads for a shrimp stock.
On medium high heat, season and sear the shrimp in the paella pan in Spanish olive oil – reserve.
If using an uncooked chorizo (Mexican), sear this in the same pan – reserve. The goal is not to cook either meat, but to caramelize.
To the brown bits, add mushrooms and stir and saute.
Once the mushrooms are partially cooked, add the sofrito.
If saffron is not added to the shrimp stock, crush and toast a pinch or two of saffron on the side of the paella pan.
Add the paella rice; toast and mix with the sofrito for a minute or two.
Add the shrimp stock.
Stir for several minutes after attaining a moderate boil.
Add the chorizo and green beans or peas.
Spread the rice evenly, set the heat to maintain a simmer, and stop stirring. The goal is to have a low enough boil that the bubbles never break the surface – forming a film over the paella, which ensures an even cook.
It should take about 10-15 minutes at this point for the rice to absorb all of the water.
About 3 minutes before the water is completely absorbed, place the shrimp gently on top of the paella.
At the very end, when almost all of the water is absorbed, turn the heat to high. This will caramelize the bottom layer or rice – adding a further smokey flavor and a crispy texture to the paella.

Comments:
This can all be accomplished either over a gas burner, giving more flexibility to temperature control or over a grill, giving a slightly smokey flavor (assuming charcoal) and a more even heat distribution over large paella pans.


Sofrito

Ingedients:
3 large Spanish yellow onions
6 vine ripened tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp Spanish olive oil
3 tbsp pimentón (smoked paprika)

Preparation:
Finely chop the yellow onions.
Blanch the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds, peel, and blend in a food processor.
Add the olive oil to a hot pan over medium heat.
Add the onions and cook on medium heat for 45 minutes until well caramelized.
Season with salt several minutes into the caramelization.
Add pimentón and finely chopped garlic.
Add the tomatoes to the pan with the onions and cook for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes have obtained a rich color.
Taste the softiro and add salt and additional pimentón as needed.

Comments:
This can be made ahead of time and frozen in 1/4 cup portions, thawed, and added to recipes as needed. I like to make this when local tomatoes are in season.


Shrimp Stock

Ingredients:
shells and heads from 2 lbs uncooked head-on prawns
vegetable scraps (celery, broccoli stems, onion ends and peels, fennel stalks, etc)
sprigs of fresh herbs (eg, oregano or thyme)
water

Preparation:
Place shells, vegetables, and herbs into a stock pot with water to cover.
Boil for at least an hour.
If this will be used for paella, saffron can be added 5 minutes before ending the boil.
Strain the stock through cheese cloth.
Reduce and salt as necessary to obtain desired richness and flavor.

Comments:
Reduce and freeze with no additional salt for future use. Frozen stock can be diluted and salt added when the stock is needed.

Doing it right takes quite a bit of time and effort but is well worth it. I’ve skimped on the stock (boiling without vegetables or for less time) and sofrito (not completely caramelizing the onions or using tomato puree) – the results are still excellent, but the differences are noticeable.

Now I keep my effort down by making large batches of sofrito or shrimp stock ahead of time and freezing. In fact, I’ve got to get this round’s shrimp stock into the freezer straight away…

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