If we’d done our homework, we could maybe tell you why March 27th is National Spanish Paella Day. Maybe it’s the anniversary of the truce that resolved the Spanish-American War. For now, though, the important thing is that Spanish Paella is that rare and wonderful dish that both adults and kids can enjoy in all of its rampant deliciousness. It’s educational, too, since the dish combines all that the Spanish culture has to offer. It was developed in Valencia, Spain in the 1800’s, containing white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken or duck), land snails, beans, saffron and olive oil. The dish was cooked over an open flame fueled by pine cones and pine and orange branches–and then served right in the cooking pan. [image via flickr]
The most popular variations of paella include Valencian paella, seafood paella and mixed paella. Many chefs create huge paellas in competition hoping to land a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The current record holder, Chef Juan Galbis, created an elaborate masterpiece that fed over 100,000 people! If you’d like to celebrate this national holiday in your own home, we have a recipe for you that combines some of the freshest ingredients for a truly traditional paella. This recipe has a lot of steps and contains some not-so-common ingredients (rabbit is seasonal, but chicken can be substituted if rabbit isn’t available), so make sure you have everything before you start. The big pay-off is that your kids are going to love the results of your labor–but we’d still be going to our favorite restaurant for Spanish Paella if it hadn’t closed back in 2006…
3 cups bomba or calasparra rice (arborio risotto works as a substitute)
8 cups chicken stock
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bell pepper, diced
10 -15 flat green beans
4 plum tomatoes, diced
0.5 (4 ounce) can tomato paste
15 large shrimp (feel free to add clams, calamari, prawns or mussels)
2 -3 lbs rabbit
4 links chorizo sausages, frito sliced into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 -3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1 pinch saffron
3 lemons, quartered
It’s best to have all of your ingredients prepared before you start cooking. Chicken legs are good, but you might be able to get access to some rabbit. If you’re feeling adventurous, you prepare the rabbit by separating the legs, cutting the remaining meat into small slices, and then lightly salting. Peel the shrimp, leaving only the tail and then salt them. (In Spain, they tend to leave the shrimp unshelled, so there’s an excuse to be lazy.) If you have the time, make your chicken stock from scratch. Add a bit of rosemary, a tiny pinch of saffron and a bit of thyme. If you’re going to use bouillon, heat it up with these herbs and then strain before you start.
Keep your stock hot (but not boiling) as you cook.
Coat the bottom of your pallera/pan with olive oil.
Brown your chorizo over high heat for 1-2 minutes. Do not fully cook. Just get the outside well-browned. Set aside. This should add a nice red color and a hell of a flavor to your oil.
Brown the rabbit for 2-3 minutes. It should not be fully cooked. Set aside.
Brown garlic, onion and bell pepper until they’re softened, adding plum tomatoes shortly before the mixture is finished.
Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. On the other, add the half can of tomato paste. Caramelize it, flipping it and spreading it until it begins to loosen. That should take about 1-2 minutes over high heat.
Mix all of the vegetables and meats together with the caramelized tomato paste–also adding the paprika, parsley and thyme.
Add rice, mixing together and stirring as the rice browns (1-1 1/2) minutes. As the rice browns mix in the saffron. Make sure to break it between your fingers and stir it in to release all those tasty oils.
When the rice is slightly translucent, add enough chicken stock to cover the whole mixture. If it’s been kept warm, it will begin to boil almost immediately. Lower to a medium heat but keep it at a steady boil.
This is where paella is made and broken. Stir a few times in the first 5-10 minutes, adding broth as necessary to keep the rice fully covered. After this you must let the paella sit. Sit, sit, sit. Let it cook another 10-20 minutes (this step can take longer on a stovetop), adding broth bit by bit to keep the rice submerged until the rice on the top is al dente. That means firm, but not hard. Don’t worry about rice burning to the bottom. That part is called socarrat and is considered a delicacy.
As you stir the paella for the last time and are letting it cook for a final 8 minutes, go ahead and lay shrimp on top. Turn that shrimp over after 2-4 minutes to cook other side.
When the rice on top is still quite al dente, take the paella off of heat and cover. You must let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Patience is very important here. Take the lid off too soon and you can get a crunchy mess. Once you’re sure it’s ready, uncover, garnish with lemon wedges, and enjoy!