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What an amazing creation a paella is. It is party food to the max, especially when the making of it is also a joint effort. There’s something for everyone; seafood, chicken, chorizo, rice. But it’s so much more than just a sum of the ingredients. When so many layers of flavor are combined, how could you not end up with a masterpiece. It is absolutely nothing less than art. Stunning colors, patterns, flavors, textures.
Having only participating in the making of it once, I do not feel qualified to leave you with an exact recipe. However, I’ll summarize the process and show you what we ended up on the evening of paella magic.
Here’s the key as I see it. Take every opportunity that you have to add flavor. Frankly, it’s not different than any other time you’re cooking something at home. It seems obvious, but if you think about it, sometimes you probably throw together a meal without wisely using the chances you have to add flavor. For example, if you are boiling pasta for a quick meal, salt the water heavily. It should be as salty as sea water. How much better even a simple pasta meal tastes if the water is salted.
If you do paella correctly, there are numerous flavor points; some that like to take front stage, like the chorizo, and others that don’t mind being background notes, like the calamari. Altogether it sings a Spanish love song.
1. Start with a sofrito, a sauté and reduction of onion, garlic, tomato, red peppers, and cured ham (Serrano). This time around Alex provided roasted tomatoes and peppers – flavor addition #1. Roasted vegetables add a depth of flavor that doesn’t exist with raw ones. You can make this in a separate pan to speed up the process. We used a cast iron – yet another opportunity to add flavor. (#2)
2. Darkly brown chicken in olive oil. Use a home grown free-range chicken (flavor addition #3).
3. Sauté chorizo (this Spanish sausage needs no flavor booster in my book) in the same pan once the chicken is fully browned. Browning this first extracts the pork fat and paprika into the pan making it absorbable for the other ingredients.
4. Lightly sauté 1 lb. shrimp (in their shells – flav add #4 – shells add flavor to the liquid for when the rice is cooking).
5. Sauté one lb. of fresh calamari bodies and tentacles. (from Monahans = #5)
6. Add the sofrito to the growing paella mix.
7. Pre-bloom saffron in warm water. (#6) Yes, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but for a paella pan that feeds 16, you’ll need quite a bit – maybe 4 tbsp in 2 cups of warm water. Getting the saffron soaked first lets it impart its flavor before it’s added to the party pan.
8. Soften seafood bullion in the water that you’ll need to cover the rice. (#7)
9. Taste the liquid here. You should have a splendid balance of spice from the saffron, bullion, chorizo; sweetness from the seafood; & heady depth from the sofrito. Tasting the liquid before you add the rice ensures that the rice will have good flavor. This is your opportunity to make any changes you’ll need.
10. Use paella rice, a close relative of Arborio, or risotto rice (#8). This starchy rice adds a texture that compliments the other ingredients.
11. Sprinkle with frozen peas, to add color and texture. (#9)
12. Add fresh mussels (#10) into the pan, lips up. Just watch for them to open, as if asking for a Spanish kiss.