When you start to think about it, it’s pretty crazy how different cuisines across countries find commonalities, whether it’s Italian ravioli compared to Chinese dumplings or French bouillabaisse to Spanish paella. It’s just different variations of the same kind of a thing, you know?
Deciding to make something festive and a one-pot crowd pleaser, I attempted at my first paella. I tell myself that whatever paella I’ve had in my life will not compare to the “real thing” in Spain – so until I get there – I’ll have little to compare it to. I started by purchasing a cast-iron skillet, an affordable Lodge one for $20 bucks at Sur la Table. Not a real paella pan but getting a pan just for paella would be quite the commitment. Besides, I thought I could use the skillet for frying chicken (not that I do all that much frying), baking corn bread, etc., etc., And it turned out to be a good thing, cuz it did just the job albeit I didn’t get the infamous socarrat, the crunchy rice layer at the bottom of the pan similar to dolsot bibimbap of Korean cuisine where rice is served on a heated stone bowl with all the fixings to get it nice and crunchy. See what I mean about commonalities across countries?
I decided to make a mixed paella that has chicken breast, thighs, chorizo, shrimp, calamari and mussels. To make chicken breast moist and tender, I borrowed Thomas Keller’s method of soaking the chicken in buttermilk beforehand which helped. And per many of the recipes, arborio rice (also used for risotto) was selected although in retrospect, it probably had bit too much starch and resulting in a bit too creamy/starchy paella. Nonetheless, the flavors were right and well-balanced, with 1/2 and 1/2 of fish stock to chicken stock, smoked paprika and saffron, of course.
Mixed paella (serves 6-8)
- handful of each protein: chicken breast, chicken thighs, shrimp, calamari, mussels
- vegetables: 1 red bell pepper, handful green beans, 1/2 onion, handful baby artichokes (or canned artichokes), 1 large ripe tomato (peeled, grated), small handful of minced garlic
- spices: 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 pinch of saffron, 1 tsp oregano, lemon zest, parsley and 2 bay leaves
- starch: 1 cup arborio or spanish medium grain rice (Valenciana rice)
- stock: 1 cup fish stock, 1 cup chicken stock
1) Warm 1/2 cup of chicken broth in a small pot, stir in saffron and let soak for 15 min to bring out saffron color/flavor.
2) You’ll cook the proteins and each set of vegetables separately and then combine all of them with the rice later. First step – brown chicken on iron skillet with oil on med-high heat and move to a plate. Sautee 1/2 of garlic, peppers then move to same plate. Sautee artichokes and green beans until slightly tender and move to a plate. Sautee onions until tender, add tomato until reduced and broken down. Add leftover garlic and rice and roast rice until slightly toasted.
3) Add back your chicken and vegetables, submerge the ingredients in skillet with fish/chicken stock, saffron mixture and the spices (minus the parsley).
4) Key is NOT TO STIR! Set cooktop heat to lo-medium and cook for ~20 min until the rice is chewy and 1/2 of the stock has been evaporated. Add your shrimp, calamari and mussels, cover lid and cook for another ~10-15 min until all of the stock’s evaporated and rice is tender. You should start getting the crunchy socarrat browning at the bottom. Mine burned a bit but all the while – it was pretty neat-o to have it come all together.
Serve in the middle of the table with sprinkled parsley, some toasted bread and avocado slices drizzled with olive oil. Some salad would be nice to cut some of the fat and heartiness of the paella as well. And of course, you have to have some Spanish wine to go along with all of that;)