Let's Talk Paella | An Event to Remember
A Spanish Classic with a history...not to mention an incredible party food (see Taking Pure Joy's recipe below).
In the first summer of Taking Pure Joy, I was blessed with the opportunity to come into the home of Melanie and Frank to prepare a Spanish Paella for them and 12 of their oldest friends in Santa Cruz, CA. A week prior to the event, this spunky couple had me over to their home so that we could talk menu and so that I could scope out the kitchen. What was meant to be a 15 minute meet and greet turned into a lengthy, enrapturing conversation about life, love, friends, family, and food. I couldn't wait to come back and help them and their friends celebrate a joyful reunion.
Upon arriving on the day of the event, Mel and Frank went out of their way to help me feel comfortable using their kitchen, asking every few minutes if I needed anything from extra cutting boards, to a bluetooth speaker to set the mood with music from #TheGypsyKings, to a bottle of chardonnay they had bought as a gift for me. There I was trying to do my job preparing and serving a gorgeous 4 course meal for them and their guests, and there they were serving me wine!
As the evening went on, guests filtered in. Before I knew it, I had a whole crew of energetic, enthusiastic individuals (all of whom had come of age in the roaring 60's and 70's) cheering me on as I put the finishing touches on the gorgeous paella they had all come to enjoy.
When the time came to sit and eat, one of the newest members of this glowing circle of friends helped me lift my now bringing 22" Paella pan off of the stove and to the serving table, trailed by eager eyes and taste buds, ready to enjoy.
The meal was beautiful. A salad of roasted padron peppers and heirloom cherry tomatoes with feta, micro-greens and tiny basil leaves preceded the main attraction of Paella, which was served with a warm loaf of crusty bread. Dessert was a simple galette filled with peaches and plums from my back yard and dusted with powdered sugar.
Food aside for a moment (and then I will get on to talking about paella and my recipe), I have never enjoyed an evening of "work" so much in my life. My photographer, Jake Thomas, and I were invited to sit at the head of the table and join in on the meal and the conversation. Rowdy, hilarious, kind, and generous of heart, this group of individuals inspired me in more ways than one, but in one way in particular:
Value your friends. They are your chosen family. Those true connections you make in your younger years CAN last a lifetime, regardless of distance, or changes in lifestyle. And, with their love and help, you CAN stay young forever...you just have to believe it! What's the secret? Laughter and an open heart.
So, let's separate from the glorious land of garden partied and talk about Paella itself, a controversial dish in the foodie world these days. Why? Because those of us in the US have diverted greatly from the classic, authentic Spanish preparation, using an amalgamation of land and sea based proteins (#paellamixta) as apposed to the traditional land OR sea preparation.
At it's origin, Paella consists of one OR the other of the following base ingredients:
(1) Paella de Mariscos (Seafood Paella)
In a traditional seafood paella, the chef adds an amalgamation of fresh seafood to a base of rice flavored with saffron and other herbs as well as onions, garlic, tomatoes, and other veggies on hand (I like bell peppers). Mussels, clams, and shrimp are often included along with other fish and seafood available that day. I like to use scallops, squid, tiger prawns and/or lobster tails. One rendition of the dish includes squid ink, which turns the rice black and adds a flavor that locals love.
(2) Paella Valenciana (Land Paella)
In a traditional Paella Valenciana, the chef adds a variety of land-based proteins to a base of rice flavored with onions, garlic, saffron, and often rosemary. Rabbit, chicken, duck, and snails are commonly found in this paella. In addition to proteins, veggies such as lima beans and and green beans are generally added to the mix as well as other seasonal veggies such as artichokes.
While I am a huge fan of traditional paella recipes, the vast majority of my requests are for a more americanized #mixedpaella consisting of chorizo, chicken, and seafood. I don't have a huge problem with this rendition due to the fact that (although it is not the true, authentic way), at it's origin, paella is a humble rice dish prepared by farmers, often at lunch time, with whatever is on hand that day...snails, rabbit, veg or (in coastal villages) seafood. Due to this "whatever is on hand" attitude, I feel it is at least somewhat acceptable to put whatever your heart desires into the dish, so long as you include the basics that make Paella...well...paella. And what are those? A true paella must include:
- Short grain, round rice (bomba is popular, but I tend to use calasparra as I can almost always find it at my local safeway)
- A strong sofrito (a "sauce" that creates the flavor base of the dish, generally built around onions, garlic, bell peppers, herbs, sometimes tomatoes and other veg. sauteed in olive oil)
- A socarrat (a layer of toasted, flavorful rice at the bottom of the pan made possible by ceasing stirring the rice toward the end of the cooking process)
- Saffron. Regardless of which paella one is preparing, the dish is characterized by the addition of saffron to the cooking liquid. Saffron is a beautiful (albeit expensive) ingredient that provides a gorgeous yellow/orange color and a one of a kind flavor that brings a paella to life.
So, without further ado, allow me to share my recipe. Many will disagree with me on this not-so-authentic approach to Paella, but pease take note as you read the following recipe that I am not claiming this to be a traditional paella! It is simply the favorite of the vast majority of my clients. So foodies, refrain from vicious comments please ;) Otherwise, enjoy!
TAKING PURE JOY'S PAELLA MIXTA #RECIPE:
- About 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, finely diced
- 4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
- 3 bell peppers, diced (I use red, yellow, + green for color)
- 1 tbsp dry parsley
- 1/2 tbsp red chili flakes
- 1/2 lbs ground chorizo (beef or pork)
- 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (you can use fresh as well, or canned diced)
- 2 1/4 cups short grain, round rice (I use Calasparra)
- 4 cups veggie stock
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 large pinch saffron
- 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup (or more if you prefer) fresh Parsley, chopped
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- 1 lb jumbo shrimp, shelled & deveined (I prefer fresh, tail on but thawed w/no tail will work just fine)
- 3/4 pounds fresh scallops (you can also use lobster tails, squid, or white fish...or any combination!)
- 10 mussels, bearded & scrubbed
- 10 manilla or little neck clams, scrubbed
- Lemon wedges to serve
- Heat a "18 in Paella pan (OR a very large, skillet ( the trip is to have a lot of surface area to allow for proper evaporation of liquids) to medium-high and add ~2 tbsp Olive Oil
- Add the chicken to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on both sides.
- Once browned, move the chicken to a part of the pan that is not directly over a burner (or remove and set aside)
- Add remaining olive oil, onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Season with salt, pepper, dry parsley, and chili flakes. Saute for a couple minutes (until onions become translucent)
- Add the chorizo to the veg and continue to saute until the veggies develop a nice golden brown color and the chorizo gets a nice crisp to it.
- Add the rice and smoked paprika and saute the rice for a minute or so, coating it with all of the favors you have started to develop in the pan.
- Add the tomatoes, veggie stock and saffron (If you have removed your chicken, return to the pan now). Bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and cover with lid or foil. Allow the rice to cook until it is almost done, but still has a bite to it (~15 minutes). IMPORTANT NOTE: No more stirring from the point on. You want to develop what is called a socarrat on the bottom of the pan...a crispy, flavorful ayer of flavor)
- Uncover pan and arrange seafood on the rice, mussels and clams face up so that they have a chance to open (This is your chance to get pretty! I like arranging the seafood in a circular pattern with mussels and clams accenting throughout). Cover and allow to cook until all the mussels and clams open and the shrimp and scallops are fully cooked.
- Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat to high and let the mixture cook for about a minute or until the rice starts to brown on the bottom and gets nice and toasty.
- Stir in the parsley, arrange some lemon wedges on the top and serve right away!