Paella is like a party in a pot. This seemingly sophisticated one pot meal traces its humble roots to the coastal town of Valencia, Spain in the 1800s. Paella, pronounced pie-aye-yah, is simply a dish consisting of yellow rice and assorted seafood, though the more central regions of the country used meats like sausages, and rabbit. During the 20th Century, this dish began to enjoy a worldwide popularity and as it left the region it became less simple as it started to incorporate a wide range of fish, seafood, meats and sausages. Although I've eaten and enjoyed paella throughout the year, I do love it so in the wintertime as the temperatures start to dip. It's a perfect meal to serve at a dinner party - It's an unexpected and welcome surprise.
We used to have paella for Boxing Day - a British Holiday that immediately follows Christmas - when my parents came to visit. It was a tradition for many years. After I divorced we simplified the menu when we entertained them. I think it's time we started to enjoy it again!
There really is no right or wrong way to make paella. There are many recipes with fairly simple cooking instructions that include a fluffy yellow rice - rice that has been infused with ribbons of saffron or, because saffron is so expensive, paprika. The base of the paella is referred to as a sofrito which is a blend of vegetables that have been sauteed in olive oil (similar to a holy trinity or mirepoix.) Once the sofrito is made, you can add to it what you wish. Popular choices include lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, chicken, rabbit and assorted sausages. You'll often see it cooked with peas, and artichokes that add a woodsy richness to it. To make this dish a special paella pan is used. It is a fairly shallow dish with medium high sides and two handles and transfers from stove top to oven seamlessly. These pans vary in price and can be found anywhere from under $50 to over $200 dollars. I personally do not see the need to get a really expensive one. This basic version by Lodge should do just fine.
The recipe I'm sharing below is adapted from from *The Barcelona Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Wine, and Life- a family favorite and we savor many of the recipes within its pages.
How to prepare your paella
Serves 8 - 10
For the Paella Spice:
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron threads
For the Paella:
3 red bell peppers cored and coarsely chopped
3 green bell peppers cored and coarsely chopped
2 Spanish onions, coarsely chopped
5 tbs olive oil
1/4 tbs chopped garlic
1 tbs tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 tsp saffron threads
5 cups of fish, vegetable or chicken stock
2 1/2 cups of sliced Spanish chorizo
3 1/2 cups boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into chunks
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 rice (we use brown)
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
18 little neck clams, scrubbed
20 Prince Edward Island or other high quality mussels, cleaned and scrubbed
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 lobster tails and the meat from 4 claws
Note the seafood choices are optional - for a party to keep prices in check you may want to skip the lobster altogether or perhaps add some more shrimp.
1. To make the Paella spice place the paprika, cumin, turmeric, coriander and saffron in a spice grinder. Use immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
2. To make the paella. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the bell peppers and onions until they resemble chunky applesauce.
3. In a saucepan set over medium heat, heat the olive oil. When hot enough add 1 tbs of garlic for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Then add the pureed vegetables and paprika and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently as the mixture reaches the simmering point.
4. Add the tomato paste, white wine and 1/4 tsp of the saffron threads and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half and the vegetables are tender. Cover and keep the sofrito warm until needed. If not using right away, cover and place in fridge for up to 2 days.
5. In a large saucepan bring the stock and remaining 1/2 tsp of the saffron threads to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the saffron has colored the stock.
6. Preheat oven to 450F
7. Heat the paella pan and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the chorizo and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the fat has been rendered and the sausage browned.
8. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and saute for 6-7 minutes, or until lightly browned.
9. Add the rice, stir well and saute for 2-3 minutes Add the paella spice and stir well. Stir the sofrito into the pan and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat.
10. Arrange the fish, clams, mussels, lobster, etc in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and transfer the paella into the over and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for 15 more, or longer so that the liquid has evaporated and the rice is tender.
11. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the paella and serve.
What to serve at your Paella party
Because paella is a fairly rich dish it needs no fancy accoutrement. Serve it on its own and let guests help themselves 2nd and 3rd helpings! You may choose to serve a simple green salad on the side but you'll need nothing else. If you want to offer up little bites for guests to nibble on before dinner, you may do so, but urge them not to fill up before the main meal! Some appetizer type options are:
- Garlic Shrimp
- Roasted Marinated Olives
- Roasted, salted Marcona almonds with Rosemary
- Assorted Spanish cheeses such as Cabrales, Manchego, Mahon, and Iberico with thinly sliced pieces of baguette or similar bread
- Chickpea puree with grilled pita chips
- Assorted slices of serrano ham, prosciutto or sausage
- Roasted red peppers drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar
- Gazpacho shooters
Which beverages to serve with Paella
Because the dish is Spanish, it's fun to stick with wines from the same country. Both red and white, as well as rose can be enjoyed with this meal. For those who like a little bubbly, there are several good Cavas to choose from. For those seeking a lighter white, you may consider an Albarino - pronounced albahrinee-oh. For those who prefer a Pinot Noir, you may opt for a Rioja, pronounced rhee-oh-ha. If you prefer a bolder wine like a Super Tuscan you may choose a Tempranillo (pronounced temp-rah-nee-yo) which range from medium to full-bodies. Or you may opt for a Spanish Rose. You'll local vintner will be able to help you out and walk you through the process.
*The Barcelona Restaurants are scattered throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, the Washington DC area and Georgia. Click the link to order The Barcelona Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Wine, and Life. If you have a hankering for paella but aren't up to making it at home, the restaurants do serve them. In fact, I'm headed to one tonight!