Saturday, June 18, 2011

Paella - sort of

Paella is a rice dish served all over Spain, but really a specialty of Valencia where the rice mostly comes from. Ingredients vary from vegetarian to seafood, although the seafood type is the one everyone immediately thinks of. I call this paella, and we´ve served it to family who don´t complain, but really it would be more accurate to call it ¨rice with other ingredients¨. Paella is complicated and tricky. Rice with other stuff I can do.

Believe it or not, paella is one of those things the Spanish make when picnic-ing, open fires are paella-friendly, so we do ours on the grill. This is convenient because the paellera or pan is too big for the rings on the stove.

Heat olive oil in the pan - more than you would think. Sautee diced onion, then chopped peppers and garlic. I add the garlic with the green pepper because if I don´t it always seems to burn and tastes terrible.

After the onion and peppers I add garbanzos. This is very non-traditional but I like the color they get from the saffron. I can never get dried garbanzos to soften, so I use the jarred variety, rinsed.

There are quite a few packaged paella spices, but the main ingredients are saffron and salt. You could certainly add these separately on your own. Stand back and admire the lovely color.

Add the rice, long or short grain as you prefer, and let toast for a few minutes. Then add the appropriate amount of water. Rice quantities will vary depending on how many you are serving, the size of your pan, and the amount of other goodies you´re throwing in. Let simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn´t stick.

We generally add in order with a few minutes between ingredients:

1/2 lb of meaty white fish (cod, hake, etc.)in chunks
1/4 lb Calamari rings
1/2 lb. shrimp - shells on (The Spanish eat whole shrimps with the shells, but no one ever seems to get sick. I´m the only person I know who butterflies and de-veins them in other dishes.)
Clams, mussels or currently available shellfish, previously soaked in salt water to release the grit and bearded, scrubbed, etc. - today we have mussels. Shellfish tend to be tricky because they never want to open by the time you´ve got all the other stuff in there. But this gives your MIL a chance to cluck over something.

Hint to people shopping in Spain - Pescadilla in the fish markets is really a Merluza (hake)that´s under 2 kilos.

Keep trying the rice as all this gets cooked - but it will take a while to soften. Salt to taste at this point. If it looks like it needs more liquid, feel free to add more water, white wine or a squeeze of lemon, etc. The seafood will release a certain amount of liquor while cooking, which adds to the broth. We throw in a handful of peas and/or roasted red pepper for color at the end. Resist the impulse to keep stirring constantly, once everything is in there, just leave it alone until everything is done. And don´t worry if a bunch sticks to the bottom of the pan - for some people that´s the best part.

¡Que aprovechen!


  1. Mmmmm,I have on my bucket list to try an authentic seafood Paella. Is that weird? I do so want to try one-and if I could try one while in Spain as well(icing on the cake>)

  2. As I say, they´re served all over, but believe me, a bad tourist paella is a bad paella. Try one at home!