Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Making Paella

Ask anyone who has ever been to Spain about their most memorable dish and their eyes invariably glaze over while they murmur in a hypnotic Homer Simpson-like voice -- Paella.

My introduction to it came from a Spanish Gypsy family I knew back in my circus days. Whenever there was a potluck party, everyone would wait in anticipation for Momma Muñoz's famous seafood paella. In fact, I suspect several parties were planned just do we could get another taste of her incredible cooking.

What's not to love about Spain's most famous dish? It's versatile -- you can make it any number of ways -- with meats, seafood, vegetables, or any combination thereof. It feeds a crowd. And the visual impact of the big, beautiful filled pan always elicits WOWs from guests.

Like many legendary dishes, paella seems to intimidate cooks, but it shouldn't. Aside from an occasionally long list of ingredients, all that's involved is a little sauteing and stirring.

On Saffron
Saffron is the magic ingredient that makes paella, paella -- giving it its unique color and distinctive flavor. Made from crocus flowers, saffron can be pricey, but you only need a small amount. I have found you can get reasonably priced saffron at Cost Plus Markets or Trader Joe's stores (if you are lucky enough to have these chains in your area). Supermarkets tend to be much more expensive, if they carry saffron at all. Some people save money by substituting turmeric for saffron in paella recipes, which will yield a similar color, but a different flavor. It's still a tasty dish made with turmeric, but not truly paella.

One of the best paellas I've had in recent years came from and San Chez Tapas Bistro in, of all places, downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan (that's their version of the dish in the photo above). Chef Casey Bell (who lived in Spain for years and considers it his second home) serves some first rate Spanish fare in this trendy downtown hotspot. Check it out for lunch or dinner if you're ever in the area. Find San Chez Tapas Bistro at 38 W. Fulton St. in downtown Grand Rapids, MI 49503; phone 616-774-8272 or click to

With a little coaxing, the resaurant agreed to share their famous paella recipe. And here it is:

San Chez Tapas Bistro's Paella Recipe (pictured above)

Yield: 1 Paella in a 10 inch Round Carbon Steel Pan Serves 2 to 4 People

5 ounces arborio rice
1/2 teaspoons saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
16 ounces vegetable, seafood or chicken stock (use whatever stock best matches your main ingredients – seafood, vegetable or chicken)
3 ounces diced Spanish onion
1 ounce chopped green onion
3 ounces diced Roma tomatoes
3 ounces canned pimiento
3 ounces green peas
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
8 to 10 ounces meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, any combination of these that are to your taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lemon

Heat the stock so that it is hot yet not boiling, reserve the stock keeping it warm. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat the olive oil in the paella pan on a medium to high flame. Add the onions, tomatoes, peas, and pimientos and sauté until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic, spices, and parsley; mix evenly into the vegetables. Add in the main ingredients, your choice of meat, poultry, seafood, and/or vegetables; cook lightly. Add the rice and incorporate it evenly into the mixture. Add the reserved stock, a cup at a time, mixing it well with the rice and other ingredients; add salt to taste. Bring the stock to a boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally.

When the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking (about 5 minutes) transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes. The rice should be al dente. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes to finish cooking.

To serve:
Juice the quarter lemon over the paella and mix it up with a pair of serving spoons.

Caring for your paella pan:
After use, rinse the pan and remove any scraps with a stiff brush. Wipe the pan clean lightly with soapy water and rinse again. Dry the pan thoroughly and apply a light layer of olive oil with a paper towel or brush; this will prevent the pan from rusting.

More Takes on Paella
While the above recipe is a traditional version using a variety of ingredients, you might also want to check out some other versions -- as I've already stated, paella is versatile.

1 comment:

Chef Ciado said...

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