Although people around the world tend to think of paella as quintessentially Spanish, in Spain it is thought of characteristic of Valencia, a region along the east coast of the country. According to the entry on the subject in Wikipedia, paella originated around the Albufera, a fresh water lagoon on the Mediterranean coast, where rice was cultivated. Early paella was made with the local marsh rats, eels, vegetables, and sometimes beans. What we now think of as paella developed in the capital city, Valencia, where seafood became a common ingredient. By the mid-19th century mixed paella had evolved combining seafood, fowl, sausage, and vegetables. This recipe is in that tradition. Note that the mark of good paella is a layer of crunchy rice, called socarrat, at the bottom of the pan.
Paella is built up from four basic elements: seafood and meat, sofrito, rice, and broth. The proteins can be any combination of shellfish, meats, and sausage. I used a chicken breast, shrimp, and Portuguese chourico. The sofrito consists of sautéed onions, garlic, and tomato sometimes with the addition of pepper. For variety and because I needed to use it up, I used a leek along with the garlic and tomato. The rice is always short or medium grain with the Spanish bomba rice considered the most authentic. I used medium grain rice from the Hispanic foods section of my local supermarket. The broth is commonly shellfish stock or chicken stock but I used a vegetable stock I made from the green parts of the leeks.
While researching paella I came across the Web site located in Brooklyn that specializes in all things paella. I recommend you check it out at www.paellapans.com. I have not bought anything from them yet, but I plan to.
- ½ pound chourico or chorizo
- ½ pound boneless chicken breast or thigh
- 6 oz. shrimp
- Olive oil
- 1 leek or onion
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic
- 2 small tomatoes, canned is fine
- ½ tsp. pimentón or paprika
- 1½ cup medium grain white rice
- ½ tsp. saffron threads
- 2 Tbsp. hot water
- 4½ cups seafood or vegetable stock
- ½ cup green peas, thawed if frozen
- Salt and pepper
Slice the sausage into ¼-inch rounds. Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes, if needed peel and devein shrimp leaving the tails on. Crumble the saffron into the hot water. Halve the leek or onion lengthwise and slice thinly. Crush the garlic. Chop the tomato. Heat the stock. Set everything aside.
The seafood and meat
Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in the paella pan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage, moving and turning to get it evenly browned. Remove and set aside. If needed add a bit more olive oil and stir fry the chicken. Remove and set aside. Sauté the shrimp until just done, about 2 minutes on a side. Remove and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and pimentón and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has darkened and thickened, 15 to 20 min. If it starts to stick to the pan or burn, add a little water.
Add the rice to the sofrito, stir until well coated, and cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. Pour over part of the stock then the saffron and its soaking water using the rest of the stock to rinse out the bowl the saffron soaked in. Stir in the pea. From this point on, do not stir the rice.
Simmer vigorously, moving the pan over one or two burners to distribute the heat and cook the rice as evenly as possible. When the rice is at the same level as the liquid, after about 10 minutes, reduce the heat to medium low and arrange the meat and shrimp, pizza-style, over the rice.
Continue to simmer gently, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. more. Taste a grain just below the top layer of rice. It should be al dente, with a tiny white dot in the center. If the rice is not done but all the liquid has been absorbed, add a bit of broth or water and cook a few minutes more.
To create the socarrat turn the heat up to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 minutes or until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize. The rice will crackle, but if it starts to smell burned remove the pan from the heat immediately.
Finishing the dish
Remove the pan from the heat and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel. Rest for 5 minutes. To serve traditionally set the paella in the middle of a round or square table so that everyone can eat it directly from the pan.