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Being Chinese-American, I'm a big fan of rice dishes. "Paella" was invented in the Spanish coastal city of Valencia, and is the great Spanish take on a one-pot rice meal. As with many one-pot meals, including Italian risotto and New Orleans jambalaya, this dish is built on the three foundations of a good homemade stock, a great fond (the caramelized brown bits at the bottom of a pan that you get from searing meats), and the use of aromatic vegetables and acids to deglaze the fond and absorb it into the rice. From these fundamentals, you can build any of the great rice dishes of the world (and your guests will beg for an extra helping of rice!).
This recipe was adapted from Penelope Casas's classic, The Foods and Wines of Spain. Casas's secret is gradually turning down the heat as the paella cooks, I imagine in imitation of a wood fire gradually dying out as the dish coasts to its final temperature.
My wife raised bunny rabbits as a girl, so this isn't a bona fide paella, since the rabbit is out. The meats in this version are merely the ones that I've tried that have worked well; you should be limited only by your imagination (I keep meaning to try steaming some mussels and adding the liquor to the rice).
I use but two pots to do this dish: a pan for boiling the chicken stock (an electric kettle would also do well here) and a fry pan which is flat, wide (mine is 15 inches across) and NOT non-stick (a non-stick pan will not allow you to build a tasty fond).
This recipe does sound a bit fussy and time-intensive, but believe me, it's worth the effort!
- chicken thighs (I remove the bones and skin), 2 pounds or so
- scallops, 1/2 to 1 pound
- shrimp (my preference is 26-30 size), peeled and deveined, 1/2 pound
- chorizo sausage, 2 or 3 links, roughly 1/2 pound
- chicken stock, preferably homemade, about 3 1/2 to 4 cups
- bell peppers, chopped into 1-2 inch squares, 2
- onion, chopped, 1
- garlic, minced, 2-4 cloves
- tomatoes, seeded and chopped, 2
- pimientos (or roasted and marinated peppers), chopped, 2
- saffron, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
- paprika, 3 teaspooons
- short-grain white rice, 2 cups (I usually use Goya medium grain)
- dry sherry, 1/2 cup
- olive oil, salt and ground black pepper
I've served this at parties of 10-12 and had leftovers. And the dish gets better and better the longer the ingredients sit together!
Building the Fond
- Cut the chicken into 2 inch squares or so and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Heat the frying pan over medium heat until it's pretty hot. Place the chicken in the pan, salt-and-pepper side down.
- Salt and pepper the other side of the chicken. After about 3 minutes or when they're browned, flip the chicken over.
- After another 3 minutes or when they're browned, remove the chicken to a stashing bowl.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on one side of the scallops. Place in the pan, salt and pepper side down, then sprinkle salt and pepper on the other side. Turn the scallops after 1-2 minutes on each side; you only want a little bit of brown, and not to cook the scallops all the way through, or they'll get too tough when they get reheated later on. Remove to the stashing bowl.
- Fry the sausages in the pan as well. When they are browned, remove to the stashing bowl also.
Deglazing the Fond
- Let the pan cool to room temperature. Place the stock on medium heat and bring to a simmer as you start deglazing the pan. Preheat an oven to 325° F.
- After the pan has cooled, place back on low heat. Put a small amount of olive oil in the pan and put the minced garlic into the pan.
- Move the garlic around steadily so that it starts to move some of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Don't try to get all the bits off, or you'll burn the garlic.
- When the garlic turns golden brown and sticky, add the chopped onions and bell peppers. Sauté until the pepper is tender. These aromatic vegetables will further deglaze the fond off the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in the chopped tomatoes and diced pimientos and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. The acid in the tomatoes should deglaze the last of the fond off the pan.
Getting the Fond into the Rice
- Add the saffron and paprika, then add the rice and stir to coat with the oil.
- Pour in the broth (which should be boiling by now), the wine and some extra ground pepper. Boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, when the rice is no longer soupy but not yet dry. While it's boiling down, fish out the chorizo links and chop them into 1/4 inch slices.
- Place the (raw) shrimp into the rice about 4 minutes into the boiling down. Place the (mostly cooked) chicken, scallops and chorizo slices into the rice after the rice has been boiling for 7 minutes.
- Place the pan into the 325° F oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. When you pull it, the liquid should be gone but the rice should still be a little chewy.
- Cover the pan with a sheet of foil and let it sit for 10 minutes more.