I have a serious love for paella. We got to know each other very well when I studied abroad in Barcelona and some of my favorite memories there involve paella. I feasted on Paella de Marisco with friends while we explored El Born neighborhood after school. My classmates and I admired (then demolished) two 5-foot-wide pans of Paella Valencia while touring the Valencian countryside. My friend Kristin and I decided to stop for a quick drink after we watched the Magic Fountain on Monjuic and ended up eating a whole Paella Mixta and polishing off two pitchers of sangria. Man, life sure was rough!
For those of you who don't know what paella is and may not understand my devotion; paella is a Spanish rice dish flavored with saffron. Depending on the type of paella, it might include vegetables, meat, sausage, seafood or any variation. Traditionally, it was made of whatever was handy: tomatoes, garlic, onion, snails (eek!), rabbit, duck, chicken, beans, and later on, seafood. Paella mixta, or Mixed Paella, tends to be the most popular (especially with tourists) because you get some of everything, chicken, sausage, seafood and vegetables.
I have tried for 6 years to reproduce the multitude of paellas I ate in Spain. The people that ate the ones I made said it was "really good", but I was never satisfied. It wasn't quite right; the rice was too mushy and burnt on the bottom, or there wasn't enough flavor in the rice, etc. Finally, I have found a recipe and a cooking method that has so far produced 3 paellas that are excellent, in my humble opinion! One of the most important changes is the cooking method. Before, I always tried to cook my paella on the stove but the burners weren't big enough and always resulted in the middle being burnt and mushy and the sides being uncooked. Where can you find a bigger burner? The grill!
This recipe comes from a Portland Catering Company, called "Crown Paella", and I have made only several slight alterations. If you don't happen to have a paella pan, you can use a regular pan (or cast iron) or a wide pot. You want to have as much surface area as possible for the rice and broth to make contact with the pan to create the beloved socarrat (the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pan). Also it is important for it to be grill proof since you will be placing the whole thing on the grill.
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what you'll need:
13 inch paella pan (see notes above if you don't have a paella pan)
for the sofrito:
1/8 cup olive oil
1 cup medium diced green or red bell pepper
1 cup medium diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup tomato puree
for the paella:
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
4 to 5 prawns or shrimp, deveined
1 cup dried Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
3/4 tsp saffron threads
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 Tbsp. salt, plus more for seasoning
5 canned piquillo peppers, quartered
4 to 5 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 to 5 clams
1-3/4 cups bomba rice or paella rice
lemon slices, to serve
for the sofrito:
Heat 1/8 cup olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and sweat the bell peppers, onions and garlic until translucent. Add 1 cup of tomato puree and gently simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been cooked off, at least 30 minutes. Sofrito can be made up to 5 days ahead and refrigerated.
for the paella:
In a saucepan, warm 1 quart of chicken broth and 3/4 tsp saffron thread over medium-low heat. You want to broth to be warm, but not boiling when you add it to the rice. You also don't want it all to boil away before you get a chance to use it!
If you paella pan has rubber covering over the handles, cover both handles with tin foil.
Heat a paella pan and 2 Tbsp of olive oil over a hot grill. Brown the chicken with a generous pinch of salt. When browned, push the chicken to the edges of the pan. Add the prawns and another pinch of salt and cook until lightly colored. Remove the prawns from the pan and place to the side.
Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to the center of the pan. Add the chorizo, sofrito and smoked paprika and fry for maybe 30 seconds.
Add the rice to the pan and mix everything together. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a minute or two. Spread the mixture out evenly over the whole pan.
Cover everything with the chicken saffron broth and again make sure it is spread evenly across the pan. After this point, it is essential that you DO NOT STIR the paella.
Keeping the grill cover open, cook for 15 minutes over medium-high heat. Then, arrange the shrimp, mussels, clams and piquillo peppers over the top of the paella.
Cook for another 15 minutes. The mussels and clams should be steaming and opened by the end of the cooking time.
Remove the paella from the grill, and cover with a dish towel for 5 minutes.
Serve straight from the pan with lemon wedges and a drizzle of olive oil.
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