Most people think Paella is the national dish of Spain but that would be disputed by the Spaniards who consider it a regional dish. There is no dispute, however, that it is their most popular and widely-known dish.
There are myriad recipes out there for paella. This post goes beyond them. Do you want to know what makes a really
good killer paella?
Since I was planning to make a Paella de Mariscos y Fideos (seafood and pasta-based paella) this weekend, I thought it a good time to write this post. It’s from my perspective…but that perspective is pretty trustworthy. I’ve eaten a lot of paella.
The first (arguably) is the vessel. One of my blogging friends recently asked me if she needed a ‘paellera’ (wide shallow pan) in order to make paella. The answer is yes and no. Traditionally and ideally, yes; realistically, no.
Don’t let the pan deter you if you want to try your hand at paella. I’ve been eating paella all my life and I’ve eaten it made from paelleras like the one pictured, as well as from stove top skillets to dutch ovens to disposable aluminum baking pans for parties! For best texture and even distribution of flavors, however, the rice should be spread out in a single layer; ergo, the wide shallow pan.
The second important step is ingredients. This is where the regional differences and cook’s preferences come in. It could be all seafood, Valenciana (seafood + meat), rabbit, vegetable, etc. The base could be rice or noodles.
But, you need a few basics.
• Sofrito: This is base of many dishes in many cultures. It is the first step in building flavor. I use onions, roasted fresh tomatoes, garlic, green pepper and a little chorizo. Saute everything with generous amount of olive oil till ingredients have broken down, melded with each other and flavors are concentrated.
For intense flavor, reserving the liquids and drippings, then building on them with broth and wine cannot be stressed enough. No agua, por favor!
The third (and to me the more important) is technique. I’m a big believer that each component should be seasoned and cooked separately when you make paella (and various other dishes). Be sure to save all cooking liquids/drippings for the final mix when you add the liquid.
Pick your protein(s). Season and cook each item individually to just before total doneness and set aside. Reserve all oils and juices. Seen here: mussels, littleneck clams, scallops, shrimps, baby calamari.
Lightly toast the grains; for this dish I used ‘fideos’ (noodles). Add the reserved liquids and place pan in 350 degree oven till most of liquid evaporates and the noodles are al dente. Note: Add saffron to liquids and heat before adding to rice or noodles.
Putting it all together. Once the grain has softened and the majority of the liquid absorbed, add the reserved seafood and vegetables. Cover with aluminum foil and return to oven for about 15 minutes.
Cooking everything individually allows each ingredient to maintain its integrity and individuality so that when it all comes together every bite has maximum flavor.
Finishing Touches: Garnish with Spanish olives, capers, pimentoes and lemon wedges (to squeeze at the table for a little extra zing). Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
(1) *both the chicken broth and chorizo are additional coloring agents.
A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!
I've always been a culinary improvisor which means I get my kicks out of recipe development. In the FOODalogue kitchen each meal is an adventure and the journey is as exciting as the destination. My favorite kitchen tools are imagination and intuition. I rarely look at a recipe, not even my own!
On these pages, I suggest food pairings and techniques to be experimented with...in your own kitchen...to your own spice levels...and to your preferred portion sizes.