Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paella... my way

When I was ten my family took a brief vacation in Palma de Mallorca, a beautiful, rocky island off the coast of Spain. My primary occupation back in that day was spending as much time as humanly possible in the swimming pool, an activity interrupted only by a few ice cream cones to keep my energy level high.
Everything seemed perfect: the pool was big and surrounded by gorgeous gardens to explore, the sun was high in the sky, the weather was hot but not too hot. Little did we know that we were about to experience what I can only describe as a little culture shock. An insidious problem manifested itself on our first night in Mallorca when, around sunset, all of the sudden I proclaimed I was hungry.
At eight o’clock the two restaurants in the lobby of our hotels were closed. When we asked the concierge at what time they would open he remained vague.
“Soon,” he lied. Two hours later the restaurants were still closed, my parents were enjoying cocktail hour on the hotel terrace and I was passed out on a lounge chair, exhausted by a day of playing in the pool.
When I woke up the next morning my parents were still talking about the delicious paella they had the night before, when the food was finally served around midnight.
I never got to eat this wonderful, authentic paella made in a real Spanish kitchen, but I learned how to make a really good one from my dad who is a paella aficionado like me.

Traditional paella is made with chicken, chorizo and a generous medley of shellfish. My version doesn’t include much shellfish for two reasons: the first one is that I am on a budget and the second one is that I think mussels are slimy, so I opted to use only shrimp.
1 1/2 pound chicken breast, cubed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme (preferably fresh, but if you want to use the dried kind go ahead)
1 teaspoon marjoram (again: fresh is better, but not a must)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 (4-ounce) link hot sausage (Publix sells a hot sausage that is more yummy and less greasy than chorizo)
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups uncooked Uncle Ben’s rice
1/2 cup diced plum tomato
1 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (a little pricey, but definitely worth it)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken broth (canned broth is perfect for this recipe)
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
First of all pour yourself a glass of wine, a good paella is not something you can rush. I also suggest that you prepare, chop and mince all your ingredients before you start cooking. It will save you time and you won’t have to run to the fridge and chop onions like a maniac halfway through the cooking process.
Sprinkle the cubed chicken with rosemary, thyme and marjoram, add salt and black pepper to taste. Heat the olive oil in the largest skillet you own, over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Remove it from the skillet and set aside.
Now take the sausage and remove the casings: the easiest way to do this is with a sharp small knife, but nails and teeth work as well. Add the sausage to the pan and cook 1 minute, stirring to crumble.
Add the chopped onion and cubed bell pepper and cook 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Add rice, tomato, paprika, saffron, and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. At this point the rice will look slightly toasted.
Return chicken to pan. Add 1 cup of broth and 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Simmer until broth evaporates. Add another cup of broth. Simmer until broth evaporates. Add a third cup of broth. See a pattern here? Repeat until rice looks almost done. Four cups of broth should do the trick: you don’t want an overcooked mess that looks like cafeteria rice. Stir in shrimp and peas. Cover and cook an additional 5 minutes or until shrimp is done.
WINE PARING: a medium bodied Spanish red or, if you have time, make sangria.

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