Friday, October 26, 2007


Paella used to be on of those dishes that I always wanted to make, but was too intimidated to actually attempt. It always seemed like it required a vast array of esoteric ingredients (snails, rabbit, quail, random mollusks, etc.) and a lot of people to eat it. It is also one of those dishes where people endlessly debate the correct way to prepare it. Then there is the need for the large shallow paella pans. I didn't have one and I was reluctant to go out and spend the money on one. All that changed when friends visiting Spain brought the Mrs. and I a small 15" pan as a gift. For various reasons, the pan sat in our basement a couple of years before it was used, but eventually I broke down and tried to make paella myself. In hindsight, I don't know what kept me back for so long. Paella is easy to make and lends itself to improvisation. Although it is nice to have the elaborate combination of ingredients, it really isn't necessary. Also, paella recipes scale pretty easily, so if I see a recipe that feeds 12 people, I can easily adjust it to fit my 15" pan; which makes enough for the three of us with leftovers.

I made this paella last Wednesday. It is based on a recipe from "The Cuisines of Spain" by Teresa Barrenechea. Listed as "Meat Paella", it is distinct from most paella recipes I have seen in that the ingredients are simple; peppers, beef, chicken and chorizo. The quantities of meat are relatively small and are usually something I have stored in the freezer leftover from something else. As such, it makes for a great weeknight dish when I don't have a lot of time to gather stuff. I actually didn't have any beef on hand, so I used a small chunk of pork loin that was sitting next to the chicken stock I had frozen for just such an occasion. Really, I think I like it with the pork better than with beef.

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First a half cup of olive oil is heated in the pan.

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A sliced pepper is added... actually, 1/2 of a red pepper and 1/2 of a green pepper in this case.

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The peppers sautee for several minutes until they are very tender.

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The meat is added and cooked until it starts to brown. The chorizo I used is a breakfast chorizo from La Tienda. Being only a half inch thick, it makes perfect little slices for paella. It kind of reminds me of those Oscar Meyer cocktail weiners when it is cut like that, although it tastes a lot better.

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Then the rice is added and lightly fried in the oil. It is something of a contentious act as far a paella making is concerned. I have frequently read that, unlike a pilaf, one should not fry the rice when making paella. But I have experimented with both ways of doing it and haven't really seen much of a difference. At the same time, with this meat paella, it almost seems natural to want to fry the rice; letting it absorb the flavor from the meat itself.

I actually used arborio rice in this case; which is yet another sin as far as paella is concerned. Although arborio rice and paella rice are pretty much the same shape and size, the dishes they are used for have two entirely different consistencies. Arborio rice is used in risotto and is supposed to have a creamy texture. Paella is supposed to be firmer with the individual grains of rice swollen with stock. Perhaps that has something to the admonition against frying the rice. In any case, arborio rice was all I had on hand. For whatever reason, it is a lot easier to find than paella rice.

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Next some chicken stock added to the pan. The chicken stock is mixed with a little sweet smoked paprika - paprika peppers that have been dried over oak.

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The original recipe calls for some garlic to be roasted, pureed, and mixed with a little stock. This gets added to the pan after the stock itself is initially added. After mixing the garlic mixture in, the spoon leaves the pan never to return; the rice being left to cook undisturbed.

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After the stock has boiled, the heat is reduced so that the liquid comes to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

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The pan is then put into a hot oven to cook for a few minutes. When it comes out, the rice has absorbed most of the stock.

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A kitchen towel is set over the paella and it is left to rest for 10 minutes.

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The towel is removed and some lemon slices are added as a garnish. The lemon juice makes a good counterpart to all oil in the paella.

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The pan is brought to the table and served with a salad of argula, tomatoes and cucumber. For the wine, we drank a granacha that I have noticed on endcaps at stores everywhere. It is pretty cheap and it paired with the paella really well.

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