Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dear Paella, I Love You

It's a Classic For A Reason
We had some mussels leftover after our mussels in white wine and bleu cheese and they needed to be cooked. Cue paella images running through my head. I'd never made paella but I've had it and it's good. Add to that the the thought of all the drool-worthy photos of this dish I've seen and the deal was done. We were off on a quest for saffron. 
Did you know that saffron is so expensive because each little red thread is handpicked? Did you know it came from a species of crocus? Did you know the saffron has been traded for 4 millenia? What's a millenia you ask? That would be 1,000 years to you and me. 
OK, that's the end of the saffron history lesson.
Suffice it to say, saffron has a unique flavor. I wouldn't call it bitter, but rather earthy or hay-like that somehow has a clean edge. That may not sound enticing, but trust me, combined with the other ingredients in paella, it's a super star among spices.
My first go at Paella got four thumbs up {because that's all we've got}. It wasn't only an explosion of color, but an explosion of flavor that left us ooing and ahing between bites.
Let me elaborate.

See what I mean?
Since it was my first time making Paella, I checked my cookbooks for a recipe. I thought for sure my Cuban cookbook would have one, but I was wrong.
So I took to Pinterest. I found a great recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon, which I used as my guideline, adjusting and tweaking as needed. I used the seafood I had- mussels and shrimp- but I'm totally game for adding clams into the mix.
Let me preface this recipe with a fact. There are a few steps to making good Paella. None of them are difficult, but after making it, I think doing things step by step is very essential for one important reason.
The essence of Paella = layers and layers of flavor. 
It might take you more time, but in my estimation, it's well worth it.
Paella Mixta
{with chicken and seafood}

Serves 4-5

sofrito {sofrito can vary in different Spanish cultures, from a cooked down mixture of onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes in Spain to a seasoned lard in Caribbean dishes. Not to be confused with the Italian soffrito, which is like a mirepoix- the’ holy trinity’ of onion, celery and carrot. This recipe begins with a Spanish sofrito:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 roma tomatoes, diced (seeds and all)
5 1/2 cups chicken stock/broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron
16 large shrimp, raw (peeled and cleaned, tails left on)
12 mussels, beards removed and rinsed and scrubbed (debearding isn't always necessary with farmed mussels)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 bone-in chicken thighs with skin
1 Spanish chorizo, sliced thin on bias
2 cups (Spanish) short grain rice or aborrio
1 cup sweet peas, frozen
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges

~ Coat heavy, large skillet with olive oil.
~Add onion, pepper, and garlic to skillet and saute.
~Allow mixture to cook slowly and caramelize (up to 2.5 hours if you have the time to let the flavors grow). Season with salt and pepper and stir occasionally.

~Add tomatoes and sautée until cooked down for 30 minutes, or until mixture starts to become thick and paste like.
~Remove sofrito from the heat and let cool.

~Add stock and saffron to a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to low simmer

~Poach the seafood in the saffron stock. Cook each separately so you can control cooking times. Neither will take long.  Shrimp will just turn light pink. Mussels will have just opened their shells.  When each is done, remove from pan and set aside in bowl and keep covered with foil.

~Reserve pan of stock. It will be used to cook the rice.

~ Coat paella pan or large heavy skillet with olive oil. Allow to heat over medium to high heat.  
~ Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper and sear on each side until they start to brown. Remove from pan and set aside on paper towels to remove grease, cover with foil.
~ Add chorizo to same pan and gently for approximately 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.
~ Drain grease from pan, reserving 2 tablespoons and chorizo in pan. Add rice, and 1/4 cup of sofrito. Saute, mixing together for 2 minutes. 
~Pour half of reserved hot stock over rice mixture and bring to a boil. When mixture comes to a boil, add chicken legs to pan and incorporate into mixture.
~You can either place paella pan into the oven, covered with foil, and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes on 375F or continue to cook on a low simmer.  When liquid has evaporated, add rest of stock and cook or bake for another 10 -15 minutes until liquid has evaporated and the rice is cooked. If need be, you can always add a little more liquid to cook rice fully. The mixture should be looking a little sticky at this point.
~Uncover and add poached seafood and frozen peas. Fold them in to incorporate. Heat for 1-2 minutes, or just long enough to reheat. You don't want seafood it to overcook.

~Plate Paella on platter for the best presentation and serve with lemon wedges if desired.

Can you imagine this dish cooked outdoors over a wood fire the way it was originally and still to this day in Valencia, Spain? I could weep at the thought. It may be even more sublime if that is possible. I will now be on a the hunt for a paella pan large enough to use over our campfire out back and will be adding 'plan first paella party' to my to do list.

That said, I know there are paella purists who could tear my version apart, as there is so much history behind this dish {check out this article from Saveur for a little bit of it}. Some would say the rice should simply be Spanish short grain. I say, use what you can get so you don't completely miss out on paella. Some would say, the rice should be fluffy, not wet. I say, 'but it sure tasted divine'. And each Paella chef surely has their ways of doing things and that's all good. I am here, willing to listen and learn if it can make a dish so inately delicious even better.

The most important thing I that I can say is don't be scared that there a good few steps to the process of making paella.  Relish in the steps. Slow down and enjoy making a beautiful meal and serving to those you love. 

You won't be disappointed.

Ciao for now,



  1. This paella looks fantastic! It's one of my favourite dishes, too. If you like paella, you'll probably love fideuá too, google it, it's delicious :) Best regards from a reader from Barcelona,


    1. Marta, I'm so glad you commented....I've never ever heard of fideua and did google it. You had me at thin pasta. It looks delicious-- thanks for sharing.

      It's so nice to know someone is Barcelona is reading!

  2. Oh! I forgot! There's this Jose Made in Spain TV show, this chef gives Spanish recipes and they're quite good. Marta

    1. I found him! I've definitely watched him. Must explore more.


      I don't know if you got the program there, but PBS did a series On The Road in Spain with Mark Bittman from NYTimes, Mario Batali, Gwenyth Paltrow and Claudi Bassols. I guess they've got a follow up running right now....glad I looked it up again as I'd hate to miss it. Really enjoyed the first installment. A real mix of Spanish history, culture and food and how they're all intertwined.

      Here's a link:

      I didn't know Claudia but loved her...........she needed a ham fix every day. Too funny!

      They may have even had an episode with Jose......I could be wrong, but it just seems like they did to me.

    2. PS-do you have a go to recipe for paella? are there things I'm missing that you'd have to have in yours? the recipe I used as a guideline had thyme, but I didn't feel like tromping to the garden through the snow to uncover ours. Also saw one with bay leaf and thought that sounded like a good addition. Do you put paella in the oven for a while or do you cook all stove top?

      oh my, so many paella questions......

    3. Hi again! There are many types of paella, so there are many, many different recipes. My favourite one is seafood paella (paella de marisco), with arroz bomba. I never add chorizo/rabbit/chicken, but that’s just me. I never use the oven for paella. You can also make arroz caldoso con bogavante (soupy rice with lobster). This is a good recipe written in English by journalists who live in Barcelona, Spain, so, they are experts in paella, they can eat it whenever they want :)
      You may like to read also about arròs negre (black rice) and calçotada.
      I write this text describing a calçotada for Lonely Planet, in case you’re curious:
      If you have any other question, just let me know!
      ¡Hasta pronto!
      abilingualbabyblogmarta (a) gmail.com

    4. Ok Marta, the LOVED your article....what a fun little celebration the calcotada is!

      thanks so much for all the info....I really appreciate it.

  3. That looks beautiful -- almost too pretty to eat. (Notice I said "almost.") Chicken and shrimp, mmm mmm! I get my saffron at the local food co-op so it's fresh and I don't have to sell a kidney to buy it.

    1. oh my....the local food coop. will have to check into that here.

      and yes. ALMOST.

  4. Ooh, that looks delicious! I spent a semester studying in Madrid in college and my host mom periodically would make me paella and it was soooo good!

    1. how awesome that you got to study a semester abroad. I bet is was because this one was damn tasty, I can only imagine hers that she'd probably been making for years.

  5. Looks amazing. I've never eaten mussels or paella!

    1. never eaten mussels? Say what?

      do you like other shellfish? no allergies? if you answered yes and then no, you must try!

  6. YUM! Love that you posted this! I finally found good spanish Chorizo during our trip to Houston last week and I've been dying to try a paella recipe :) Thanks!!

    1. Hi Becc! Well, I know you have so much time on your hands right now to make paella....you may have to ask the big W to hold the baby while you give it a go.

      So good though........


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