paella with chicken, shrimp and veggies

paella_mixta

I remember the first time I had an authentic paella – the Valencian rice dish that’s flavored with saffron and made with chicken or rabbit or seafood or a mixture of them all. It happened when I was working as an English teacher at a summer camp in the Valencian countryside of Spain. It took two grown people, each holding a handle, to carry the giant paelleras from the shack in which the paella was cooked over an open fire, and into the cafeteria. Forty kids and a handful of counselors were fed from a couple of giant pans, filled with chicken, vegetables, and (sorry vegetarians) rabbits that I had seen hopping around the compound the day before, and topped with just-picked rosemary. Delicious isn’t even the word.

Over the weekend, I got together with my friend Marisol, whose father comes from Valencia and so she knows how to cook an authentic paella. At around noon on Saturday, we started drinking mimosas and cooking, with Marisol guiding me through the process. By the time we popped a second bottle of Prosecco, Marisol had taken the steering wheel, but I carefully observed her every move so that I could share the wisdom with you all. We cooked our paella until the rice was al dente and a little crunchy on the edges. With the below instructions, you can make your own paella at home too – because the best paella is a homemade paella that you make to your liking. OK, the best paella is one that’s made over an open fire, but let’s master this way first and then we’ll revisit the open fire method. Happy Monday, folks!

 

 

paella

Ingredients:
(serves 4)

  • 4 jumbo shrimp
  • 4 chicken thighs, cut into quarters
  • 1 red bell pepper, de-cored and de-seeded, cut into thin strips
  • 1 handful of string beans with the very ends snapped off
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups of medium grain rice (like arborio)
  • 3-4 cups of water
  • 1 or 2 pinches saffron
  • 1 packet of colorante or a paella seasoning packet – it would be nice if we could use 100% pure saffron, but the real stuff is pricey in the states, so this is a useful supplement
  • kosher salt to taste
  • a few tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

  • Pour a couple glugs of olive oil into a large paella pan. When pan is hot, add shrimp, throw on some salt. Brown shrimp on each side, then remove to a separate bowl. Don’t pour out the olive oil!
  • Using the same pan and same olive oil, add peppers, salt, and cook until browned. Remove about half of the peppers to a separate bowl, reserving the olive oil.
  • Add chicken and string beans, throw on a few pinches of salt. Cook chicken until brown on all sides, then remove chicken to separate bowl.
  • Add tomatoes and garlic, salt again. Cooking stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down.
  • Add half of the rice to the pan. Allow it to brown a little bit, and don’t be afraid if it gets a little burnt.
  • Add 3 cups of water, reserving 1 cup for later if needed, and add the saffron.
  • Stir, then taste for salt.
  • Place shrimp chicken and red peppers on top of mixture and *decorate* as you like (the traditional way is to place everything radiating out from the center, like spokes on a wheel). Press chicken and shrimp down a bit so that the rice cooks around it.
  • Cover with tin foil and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Taste the rice (a little from the center and a little from the edge) to test for doneness. If water is mostly absorbed and rice is still crunchy, add reserved water. Add more salt to taste. Cover and continue to cook.
  • When water is absorbed and rice is al dente, uncover and let cool slightly.
  • Place paella pan in the middle of your table, and allow your lunch or dinner guests to scrape out their own serving with spoons, reminding them to take some of the “socorrat”, which is the burnt, crispy part on the bottom of the pan that has the best flavor.
  • Add more crunchy salt as desired.

* If you don’t have a paella pan, try a large cast iron pan or a wok.

** If you want to buy an authentic paella pan, check out the selection from La Paella, a family-run business in Long Island City.

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