Paella: Bringing People Together

Several months ago, I posted this picture on Facebook:
We had just received, like, three pounds of Louisiana smoked sausage from Kurt’s grandfather over Christmas, and one of my first thoughts was, Oooh…paella… So when we got home, I got to work.
About a million years ago I received the amazing cookbook The Foods & Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas as a going-away present from my team at my very first grown-up job in D.C. I had worked there exactly five months, hated every nanosecond of the work, and truly thought the team’s Director didn’t even know my name. (He called me Mary every.single.time.) As it turned out, they were incredibly gracious when I left and sent me off with well wishes, a gift card to Jaleo, and this really wonderful cookbook. I felt guilty for underestimating them for about 16 seconds, then happy danced all the way home because I was FREE!
Now, my CEB legacy lives on only through friendship (Hi, Court!) and that cookbook. (The gift card was gone long ago.) It’s a good thing I held onto it, because I think I instantly solidified at least three new-ish friendships here in Madison when I posted that photo on my wall in January. Earlier today, my friend who is also named Mary Beth (did I just blow your mind?) asked me for the famous paella recipe, so I thought I’d share it with you, too.
I’m going to give you exactly what it says in the book, but then I’ll tell you how I adapted it in parentheses. First and foremost, you should know that I halved this because I’m American and don’t own a paella pan. We still had leftovers for like a week. This is a fantastic special occasion meal, best enjoyed with crusty white bread and a good Spanish red.
  • 6 c very strong chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 t saffron
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1-2 small chickens, about 2 1/2 lb each (I just used boneless, skinless chicken thighs–a 1+ lb package because I halved the recipe.)
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 1/4 lb chorizo sausage, in 1/4 in slices (Be sure to get smoked Spanish chorizo, not raw Mexican chorizo. I used the Louisiana stuff and piled it on to make up for omitting the other pork products. It seemed like the right thing to do.)
  • 1 large pork chop, boned and diced (I omitted this, but not without experiencing a deep sense of regret.)
  • A 1/4 lb piece cured ham, diced (Again, I didn’t have this on hand, so I just went without. I bet pancetta or bacon would do quite nicely as well, for those of you who don’t have an entire leg of cured ham on a spike in your pantry like my Spanish host mother did.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pimientos, homemade or imported, diced
  • 1 lb small or medium shrimp, shelled (To avoid messing with lobster and other assorted shellfish, I basically just used a ton of shrimp because that’s what was easy. Adding the clams and mussels would be divine, but I’ve never worked with those before, so instead of facing my fears I just stuck with plain ol’ shrimp.)
  • 2 live lobsters, split and divided into tail sections and claws; or 4 lobster tails, split lengthwise; or 8 king crab claws; or 8 jumbo shrimp, in their shells
  • 3 c short-grain rice (The book is very specific about the importance of using short-grain rice. It says, “It may be imported from Valencia, or short-grain pearl rice grown in California [Spanish or Japanese style], or imported Italian rice.” I assume arborio would work, but I had no problem finding Spanish-style rice in the international aisle with the Goya products.)
  • 5 T chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 lb fresh or frozen peas
  • 18 clams, smallest available, at room temperature, scrubbed
  • 18 small mussels, scrubbed
  • Lemon wedges for garnish
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 325.
Heat the broth with the saffron and the whole small onion. (I just cut up a large onion and used some for this, some for the chopped onion later on.) Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the onion and measure the broth–you need exactly 5 1/2 c.
Cut the chicken into small serving pieces–the whole breast in 4 parts, each thigh into 2 parts, the bony tip of the leg chopped off, the wing tip discarded, and the rest of the wing separated into 2 parts. (Or just halve your chicken thighs. Isn’t my way better??) Dry the pieces well and sprinkle with salt.
In a metal paella pan with about a 15″ base (Yeah, right. I used a 10″ cast iron skillet. It was FULL with half the mixture, but worked just fine. Just be sure to use something that can transfer to the oven.), heat the oil. Add the chicken pieces and fry over high heat until golden. Remove to a warm platter. (I ended up not cooking these enough. They didn’t cook through like I thought they would in the oven, so just be sure they’re mostly cooked during this step.)
Add the chorizo, pork, and ham to the pan and stir fry about 10 minutes. Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimientos and saute until the onion is wilted. Add the shrimp and the lobster and saute about 3 minutes more, or until the shrimp and lobster barely turn pink (the lobster will cook more in the oven). Remove the shrimp and lobster to the platter with the chicken.
Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil. Sprinkle in the 5 T chopped parsley and the crumbled bay leaves. (Make in advance up to this point.)
Stir in the broth, boiling hot, the wine, lemon juice, and peas. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat about 7 minutes or until the rice is no longer soupy but some liquid remains. (I remember not thinking this would be done in 7 minutes, but it came together at the end, so this estimate is pretty good!)
Bury the shrimp and chicken in the rice. Push the clams and mussels into the rice, with the edge that will open facing up. Decorate the paella with the lobster pieces (?), then bake at 325 degrees, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. To serve, decorate with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

About mbdevilbiss

Until 2009, I never really thought much about Wisconsin. When I did, it was usually in the context of silent pep talks I'd give myself as I walked from the Metro station to my downtown D.C. office on blustery January mornings. "This isn't so bad," I'd tell myself. "Just imagine if you were in...Wisconsin!" *shiver* It wouldn't make me any warmer, but I could finish the 12-minute walk secure in the knowledge that I lived so, so far away from Canada. And then, one Saturday in early June, I went to a cookout and met a boy. He was wonderful and he was also moving to Madison, WI, to begin a PhD program in August. After a year of emails, phone calls, and biweekly visits, we shoved the last of my belongings into a jam-packed moving truck and headed west. As of October 9, 2010, I was an Accidental Wisconsonite. I'm no Sconnie, and I'll never be able to claim that prestigious status, but I'm loving life here so far. My blog is a place for writing about this life, and I hope you enjoy my Midwestern adventure as much as I have been.
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One Response to Paella: Bringing People Together

  1. Brigette says:

    YES! I cannot WAIT to try this. I have fond memories of the day when you posted that picture on facebook. Well they are fond now. Back then I was just full of envy 🙂

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