Is My Blog Burning? Paella

This is the fourth edition of Is My Blog Burning and is hosted by pim. It is also the first edition that I am able to join. The theme for this edition is rice. I thought a lot about what I could do for a rice IMBB and the answer was obvious. Paella.

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It’s been a while since I’ve actually cooked it because our paellera is about 20″ in diameter. It makes a lot of food. We’re planning on having a paella party a bit later on this summer.

Paella is one of Spain’s most famous foods. From what I understand there aren’t really any hard rules for the ingredients other than the rice, saffron, and perhaps tomatoes. Paella originated in Valencia although it is spreading across Spain as a kind of Sunday dinner dish. There is a key distinction from traditional paella and what we like to call tourist paella (which often times uses tumeric rather than saffron). The paella Sarah had in Valencia was rabbit and chicken. It also had turned a strange green color because of the bean they used. Paella is also a festival food. During a sports day at the University of Navarra they prepared paella for anybody on campus who wanted it. Paella is traditionally cooked outside, over an open fire. This is a necessity for festival sized paellas. The paellera used on the campus was over 10 feet in diameter.

I don’t really have a recipe for paella, which seems to be fairly common among Spaniards who make it. I first made it under the guidance of Sara Nso (who Sarah met while studying in Pamplona and who later studied at MU here in Columbia). Sara grew up in Murcia (near Valencia). We actually called her mother, at what was probably a horribly late time in Spain, for advice. Despite being called in the middle of the night her mom was happy to help, and quite chatty as the long distance bill would later reveal.

Our paella includes chicken and seafood. Our landlord would probably get mad if I built an open fire in the yard for cooking, so we resort to using the grill and I toss in unsoaked wood chips to provide the appropriate fire/smoke flavor. It actually works out quite well given the 20″ paellera on the 22″ Weber.

I don’t really have amounts for the ingredients. I also generally only make paella for 10-12 people. I have made it in a 12″ skillet for two though.

Here is a rundown of the basic ingriedients:

  • olive oil

  • diced tomatoes — I’ve used both fresh and canned with good success
  • diced onion
  • diced garlic
  • diced bell pepper — we use both red and green
  • chicken cut into pieces — I like to use boneless, skinless thighs
  • shrimp
  • calimari tubes sliced into rings
  • short grain (valencia) rice — although risotto rice would probably work
  • chicken stock
  • saffron — I know saffron is expensive, but you don’t want to skimp on it.
  • mussels
  • peas

Start a fire on the grill (or warm up a nonstick pan). You should also crumble the saffron threads into some stock in a small saucepan. I usually put the saffron in about 2 cups of stock. It takes a total of about 10 cups for our pan.

The rest of the dish is made in stages. You cook most of the incredients individually and then combine them later. The ingredient list above is in the order you will need each item. As you cook the oil takes on the flavors of each item. Once the fire on the grill has calmed down put on the paellera and add oil.

Sweat the vegetables one at a time and remove from the heat. I usually just put them all into the same bowl once they’ve been cooked. Cook the chicken and when it is almost finished add the shrimp then the calamari rings. Once the rings begin to tighten pour in the rice (it should cover the bottom of the pan) and the vegetables. Stir until the rice is lightly toasted and then add the saffron infused stock. Add additional stock to cover and bring to a boil. Add the mussels. At this point everything but the peas and some of the stock should be in the pan. Stir well to combine.

The stock will cook down and be absorbed by the rice. If the pan gets dry before the rice is cooked add more stock about a cup at a time. When the rice is almost cooked and about a cup of liquid remains stir in the peas. Now put your spoon someplace you won’t be tempted to use it. You don’t need it any more. If you stir the paella you won’t get a good layer of crunchy brown rice crust on the bottom of the pan. You do need to be careful though, if the fire is too hot the rice will burn.

When the last of the stock has been absorbed or cooked off your paella is ready. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.