Paella is our Thursday “plat du jour” and always fun to cook. Paella is essentially a rice dish originating in the provinces near the rice growing regions of Valencia. Originally made with snails, rabbit and chicken, it almost always includes seafood today. There are as many variations of paella as there are villages in Spain so to give a master recipe is useless. All would agree however that it is first and foremost a rice dish not a seafood dish.
Valencia is a famous rice growing region and the short grained rice they raise is similar to the more commonly available arborio rice from Italy. The elaborate Paella Valenciana that one sees in restaurants all over the world probably started in neighboring Catalonia, Valencia’s sophisticated neighbor.
One of the things that makes it fun (from a kitchen point of view) is the stock used to cook the rice. Every cook loves to make stock!! We start with a rich chicken stock made with the bones of the Murray’s chickens we clean each day. We follow with the shells from peeled shrimp and even snapper or cod bones and heads depending on the week. The point is we devote most of our attention to a rich stock full of the flavors that will appear later in the finished dish.
The rest of the dish is relatively easy to prepare as the other ingredients garnish the flavorful short grain rice that has absorbed all of the flavors. Here is a recipe for an easy and familiar paella with chicken, chorizo or ham and shrimp. Add mussels or clams for variety and a colorful presentation.
1 lg chicken cut into small serving pieces
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 lb shrimp or prawns
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 lg tomato, diced or 1 cup canned diced
1 Spanish style chorizo, or 1/4 ham
1 tablspoon sweet paprika
1 pinch saffron
1 1/3 lb short grain rice
1/2 pound green peas, green beans, or butter beans, cooked and drained
In a wide flat bottomed pan, saute the chicken pieces in a small amount of oil until golden brown. Remove and set aside. Heat the stock. Slowly begin cooking the onion with the saffron, chorizo and paprika stirring well. Check the stock and season with salt and pepper. Now add the seafood, beans or peas, the rice and the warm stock checking the liquid for salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. A crust on the bottom is considered by many to be not only desirable but highly sought after. When the paella is finished carefully arrange the seafood on top, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and then serve.