Paella

It’s taken me awhile to write this post, not because of how detailed it is, but because I want to make sure I can do it justice. I lived in Spain for 5 months in 2004, and one of my favorite things about Spain was the vibrant colors and the passion they have for their food. In most of the coastal cities during the warmer months, you can find outdoor fires with large paella pans cooking on them with everything from fish to chorizo to shellfish.

It took me until a year or two ago (when my lovely friends Hannah and Jenny gave me a paella cookbook and pan for my birthday) to actually make paella. I knew it would never be the same, but I had to give it a shot. It’s one of those things that Spanish women, including my amazing host mom, can put together in a snap but for me it was more of a time-consuming process. (Well worth it though!)

The Pan
This recipe calls for the use of a paella pan, but a large skillet (16-20 inch) will work in a pinch. Do not use a non stick or cast iron pan as they are thicker and won’t give you that caramelized crispy bit of rice that is to die for. To feed 4-5 people use a 16 inch pan – add an additional inch per person from there!
The Rice
If you are lucky enough to have a Spanish specialty store around you (We have a great one here in Seattle called The Spanish Table), they have great selections of paella rice. If you don’t, you can use arborio rice, japanese short grain rice or even calrose rice. The standard serving portion is 1/2 cup uncooked rice per person.

The “Sofrito”
The sofrito is a saute of vegetables that typically includes green or red peppers, garlic and tomatoes. They are cooked until pasty, aromatic and sweet. The key to a great sofrito (which you can buy from select Latin markets, Goya makes a good sofrito) is a ripe tomato. They must be peeled and seeded and finely chopped. The sofrito starts out with sauteing the chopped peppers, adding the garlic and then the tomatoes. The vegetables are cooked over medium low heat, until a paste is formed.

Ok, so now that we have all the paella “basics” let’s get to the recipe! As with most of my recipes on this blog, paella is pretty easy to make adjustments to. If you don’t like seafood, you can use only the meat or vice versa. It also makes amazing leftovers!

Paella Mixta (serves 4-6) 

Ingredients:
6 cups chicken stock
6 boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1 lb. large uncooked/cleaned shrimp
3-4 spicy andouille sausages, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
6 Tbs. olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (see sofrito note above)
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 pinches saffron threads (about 20) lightly toasted and ground (if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a rolling-pin to crush the saffron)
3 cups arborio or other short grain rice

Directions:
1. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbs. of oil to the paella pan and heat to medium. Add the chicken and cook until both sides are browned. Transfer to a large platter
2. Add the shrimp, sausage and a tad more oil, to the pan and cook until pink (about 3 minutes). Transfer to the platter
3. Remove any of the solids left behind by the chicken and shrimp and begin to prepare the sofrito in the paella pan
4. Add 1 Tbs oil to the pan (still over medium heat) and add the bell pepper. Cook until soft (about 3 minutes)
5. Add the garlic and the tomatoes and 1/2 tsp. salt. and reduce the heat to medium low. Stir from time to time and cook until the tomatoes begin to darken, about 5 minutes
6. Return the chicken and the juices to the pan and cook about 5 more minutes
7. Once the sofrito is cooked, add the paprika and stir constantly for 30 seconds
8. Add the 6 cups chicken broth and simmer for 10 minutes
9. Add the saffron and adjust for salt if needed
10. Bring the liquid to a boil and sprinkle in the rice. With a wooden spoon, feel around to pan to make sure the rice is evenly distributed – DO NOT STIR AGAIN!
11. Lay the cooked shrimp and sausage slices on top and cook uncovered for 10 minutes over high heat (note: if your burner is smaller than your pan like mine is, make sure you are moving the pan around to distribute the heat)
12. Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until the liquid is gone and the rice is “al punto” (al dente)
13. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a few paper towels and let stand for 5 minutes.
14. Fluff with a fork and serve!

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