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Monday, September 5, 2016

Spanish Paella (Chicken, Chorizo, Shrimp and Mussels)

Inspiration:  I love the beautiful paellas served in food markets in Europe and have always wanted to make my own.  The making of this paella was a group effort with the guys on the barbecue and the ladies prepping and cooking the seafood in the kitchen.  It turned out amazing and was a true labor of love!  Good friends + good food + love = best memories.

In preparation for a class this weekend, I had to develop and test a recipe for paella.  Given a beautiful authentic cast iron 15 inch paella pan by Williams Sonoma (Dix 30 in Brossard), I began to study and learn what I could about this wonderful Spanish dish.

Turns out the dish is named after the pan that is used.  It originated in Valencia and was traditionally cooked with rabbit, chicken and lots of fresh garden vegetables.   It has evolved over time to  include a variety of seafood and sausage.

For this recipe, I used chicken, chorizo, shrimp and mussels because these are ingredients I really like.  You can make it your own by adding your own personal favourites:  squid, rabbit, other veggies, fish and seafood, etc.   

I also decided to cook the seafood separately; first, because many people are allergic or don't like it and second, because it is easier to avoid overcooking it.   It can then just be added for those who want it when you are plating.    

Finally, for this test, I cooked the paella on a charcoal barbecue over a high heat and it worked very well.  Alternately, you can easily make it on the stove. 

Spanish Paella:  Makes 6 regular servings or 4 very generous servings (using a 15 inch paella pan)
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 4 large pieces (marinated in olive oil, smoked paprika and fresh or dried oregano for a few hours)
  • 10 large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails kept on (marinated in lemon zest, fresh or dried oregano, olive oil and smoked paprika for a few hours)
  • 1lb mussels, rinsed and cleaned of their beards (see below if you want to cook them separately)
  • 2T (30ml) oil
  • 8 - 10  slices of chorizo
  • 1 medium spanish onion, cut in half and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) of Arborio or Bomba (Spanish paella) rice
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) of white wine
  • 1litre (1 large box - 32fl oz) of chicken broth
  • 1 large pinch of saffron
  • 11/2 cups of sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1 orange or yellow pepper, cut in large cubes
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen peas, thawed
  • fresh parsley and basil, chopped (garnish)
  • fresh lemon (garnish)
  • sun dried black olives (garnish)
  • salt
Prep all your ingredients before hand to facilitate the cooking of the paella once you get going.  Having them prepped and close at hand will facilitate the process.

It will take about 20 minutes to cook the paella and an additional 5  - 10 minutes to create the socarrat (crunchy charred rice on the bottom) that characterizes a really good paella.  

Marinate the chicken and shrimp a few hours before cooking (see above in the list of ingredients).

Place the saffron threads in your hand and crush them slightly to release flavour.  Place them in the chicken stock to infuse while you begin to cook.

Place your paella pan (or a large cast iron skillet) over high heat.  Season the chicken with some salt and heat the oil (2T - 30ml). Add the chicken pieces to colour evenly on all sides.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.  They will be returned to the pan later to finish cooking.

Add the slices of chorizo and colour - turning over once.  The chorizo will release a lot of wonderful flavoured oil.  Remove the chorizo and set it aside to also be returned to the pan later.

Cook the onion slices in the chorizo oil for about 1 minute (a little colour is ok).  

Add the rice (1 1/2 cups - 375ml) to the onions and allow it to cook with the onion for about 1 minute, stirring continuously to coat it evenly.

Add the white wine (3/4 cup - 180ml) and stir with the rice until it is almost completely absorbed.  This will happen very quickly.

Add half of the chicken stock with the saffron threads, making sure the rice is immersed in the liquid, and allow to simmer and cook until most of the stock is absorbed.

Add the remaining chicken stock.  Again, the rice should be completely immersed.  

Return the chicken pieces and chorizo to the pan, pressing them down into the liquid.  

Add the cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 cups - 375ml) and the pepper and close the barbecue lid or cover the paella with some aluminum foil.  

Check the paella regularly, stirring every once in a while to make sure you have enough liquid and all the rice is equally absorbing the stock. 

You can play with the heat here - making sure the liquid is gently boiling and being absorbed evenly- you will have to judge yourself according to your barbecue or stove.  You may need to move the pan around on the burner or, if you are cooking on a charcoal barbecue, just move the pan over indirect heat to help control the cooking process.  

After about 20 minutes, taste the rice to see if it cooked and tender.  If it is not quite done and needs extra liquid, add more chicken stock or water, a little at a time, until it is done.   You can now also add the peas.  

When the rice is almost completely cooked, cook the shrimp directly on the grill or sauté in a pan and cook the mussels according the the recipe below.  

When the rice is ready, increase the heat and allow the rice to begin to charr slightly on the bottom and form a crunchy crust - called the socarrat.   You will begin to see colour on the edges of the pan and you will need to check it by lifting up the outer edges of the paella.  When you are happy with your socarrat, remove the paella from the heat.  Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice, add the fresh chopped parsley and basil and the sun dried black olives.  

Cooking paella is a process, but when you have done it once, you will totally get the gist of it and know how to trust you instincts on the cooking time of the rice and different ingredients.  It is well worth the effort and makes for a wonderful, colourful dinner with friends (always the best way to enjoy food!). I hope you enjoy!   

Serve with a Spanish Rioja. 

Cooking the mussels:  
  • 1lb of fresh mussels, washed and cleaned of their beards (usually sold in a mesh bag at the grocery store).  Check the date on the tag to make sure they are very fresh
  • 1T (15ml) of oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of white wine
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of heavy cream
  • 1T (15ml) of salted herbs (herbs salés) or salt to taste
  • lots of fresh basil and parsley, chopped
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
Place the oil (1T - 15ml) in a large pot and begin to heat over high heat.  Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute to soften while stirring.  Add the white wine and allow to boil for 30 seconds.  Add the mussels and cover the pot.  It should take about 5 - 7 minutes for the mussels to open. Shake the pot a couple of times.    When the mussels are opened, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon.  Allow the liquid to boil for 30 seconds to reduce and add the cream (1/2 cup - 125ml) and the salted herbs (1T - 15ml or to taste) or salt to taste.  Reduce again for about 1 minute.   Return the mussels to the pot and stir to cover them in sauce and gently reheat.  Add the fresh chopped basil and parsley and lots of  freshly ground pepper.  Transfer the mussels to a serving bowl covering them with the sauce, adding more freshly ground pepper, basil and parsley as garnish.  Discard any unopened mussels.

Note:  In Quebec, you can buy salted herbs in most grocery stores.  It is sold in the produce section.


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