There are numerous variants to this dish. The origin of this dish dates back to when the Moors occupied Spain in 711 AD. The Moors love rice which was already in cultivation and there preferred spice is saffron. Wild rabbits and seafood were some of ingredients of the dish. No pork was used because the Moor’s are Muslims. Centuries later, the method of cooking has changed from cooking the dish in a large cauldron outside in an open fire into a now crafted special paella pan . Paella originated in the eastern part of spain, in a coastal town named Valencia, thus the name “Paella Valenciana”. One of the requisite to this dish is saffron threads, the most expensive spice in the world. It is the stamen of a bulb called crocus sativa . In the US, spanish saffron cost around $54- $60 per ounce. According to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, it takes 35,000 saffron flowers to yield 1 pound of saffron. Alma Gourmet, a spanish online food retailer posits that it takes 200,000 saffron flowers to yield 1 pound of saffron. It is recommended that the rice used to prepare paella is short grain with a good absorbing ability . Bomba is the gold standard, it is a spanish brand of short grain rice that is recommended for paella but you can use any short grain rice available. I use arborio rice. Other brands available in the US market are tilda,arborio, carnaroli, maratelli and vialone nano.
While variations exist in the preparation of paella, most of the recipes are in agreement in the use of sofrito as the flavoring magic that makes paella, along with the hint of saffron . In 1950 a cookbook written by Elizabeth David, “A Book of Mediterranean Food “was published. The cookbook included a recipe for paella with seafood ,saffron and chicken as the star ingredients, and the world was enamored with paella! If you can not find saffron, do not despair, even the chefs in Spain use a substitute for this spice because the cost is prohibitive. A mexican spice called sassafras can be used in place of saffron. This spice is a knock off, it looks like saffron threads and can be found in mexican supermarkets in the package spice area for about 99 cents or a few cents more per package. In Spain 1 out of a hundred restaurant uses saffron in preparing paella. “Colorante “, a yellow powder with cornstarch and seasonings is used in place of saffron. Also try turmeric and paprika. Unless you are paella connoisseur, you will not know the difference.
Three things to remember when preparing paella . 1. Sofrito is the basis of your dish, the longer you cook it, the darker is your paella. 2. Once you added the rice and stock, do not stir the dish. 3. When your rice is cooked, the volume of your dish almost doubles in bulk. This tells you that your paella is ready. Increase the stove temperature to high for 1 minute. This process cause the rice in the bottom of the pan to form a crust, called socarrat. Enjoy!
Recipe yields 4-6 generous serving
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
4 minced fresh garlic cloves
4 peeled and minced shallots
1 C sundried tomatoes in olive oil,chopped
1 tbsp kosher salt or sea salt
1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp smokey spanish paprika
2 each chorizo bilbao ( can be purchase online or spanish grocery store) slice in rounds
8 pcs- 4 each chicken legs and thighs with skin on. Season this with the salt,pepper and paprika
2 cups short grain rice
1 quart+1 cup chicken stock (hot)
1 generous pinch of saffron threads
1 lb of white shrimp,peeled and deveined
2 lb of mussels,cleaned, debearded
2 each fresh blue crab,cleaned cut in 1/2
How to Prepare:
Use a paella pan or a large skillet
Put large skillet or paella pan in stove top. Use medium heat. Add olive oil to the skillet. When oil is hot, fry the seasoned chicken, about a minute on each side. Remove from heat and set aside in a platter.
Add the sliced chorizo to the oil . Stir to impart flavor to the oil, remove immediately. Set aside.
Add the shrimp to the oil , saute for half a minute. Remove and set aside.
Add the garlic,shallots and tomatoes to the oil and saute until wilted. This is your sofrito. The longer you cook,the darker the color will become and the flavor becomes intense. It is your call. Saute in medium heat.
Add the rice to the sofrito. Stir to blend for sofrito to coat the rice, about 1-3 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock and saffron threads. Stir to blend. Reduce heat to simmer.
At this point you need to add the chicken. Arrange in a circular manner.Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
When the rice volume is expanding in bulk and the rice is half cooked or opague in color, insert the crab, mussels, and shrimp into the dish alternately into the rice mixture . Do not overlap.
Paella is done when the rice is cooked and the volume of the dish is almost doubled.
Before you serve, increase the temperature of the stove to high for a minute to form socarrat.
Serve hot. The right way to serve paella is to start from the edges towards the center.