Citizens, it never fails to delight the Benevolence who ALONE is TFD to answer fan mail from his beloved members of TFD Nation! Today, Citizen First-Class Nick M. has performed the needed genuflections, burnt offerings and praying of the gustatory rosary to be heard by the Transcendent One Himself – and I shall answer his plea for the finest paella recipe on the planet – with my own!
Paella is a Valencian Spanish rice dish that has ancient roots, but its modern form originated in the mid-19th century in the area around the Albufera lagoon on the east coast of Spain adjacent to the city of Valencia.
Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard paella as one of their identifying symbols.
Types of paella include Valencian paella, vegetable paella (Spanish: paella de verduras), seafood paella (Spanish: paella de mariscos), and mixed paella (Spanish: paella mixta), among many others.
Valencian paella is believed to be the original recipe and consists of white rice (which must be round grain), green beans (bajoqueta and tavella), meat (chicken and rabbit, sometimes duck), garrofó (a variety of lima beans or butterbeans), sometimes snails, and seasoning such as saffron and rosemary. Also, artichoke hearts and stems are used as seasonal ingredients.
Seafood paella replaces meat with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables. Mixed paella is a free-style combination of meat from land animals, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans. Most paella chefs use bomba rice due to it being less likely to overcook, but Valencians tend to use a slightly stickier (and thus more susceptible to overcooking) variety known as Senia. All types of paellas use olive oil.
Paella is a Valencian word which derives from the Old French word paelle for pan, which in turn comes from the Latin word patella for pan.
Moors in Muslim Spain began rice cultivation around the 10th century. Consequently, Valencians often made casseroles of rice, fish, and spices for family gatherings and religious feasts, thus establishing the custom of eating rice in Spain. This led to rice becoming a staple by the 15th century.
Afterwards, it became customary for cooks to combine rice with vegetables, beans, and dry cod, providing an acceptable meal for Lent. Along Spain’s eastern coast, rice was predominantly eaten with fish.
Spanish food historian Lourdes March notes that the dish “symbolizes the union and heritage of two important cultures, the Roman, which gives us the utensil and the Arab which brought us the basic food of humanity for centuries.”
Living standards rose with the sociological changes of the late 19th century in Spain, giving rise to gatherings and outings in the countryside. This led to a change in paella’s ingredients, as well, using instead rabbit, chicken, duck and sometimes snails. This dish became so popular that in 1840, a local Spanish newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the recipe rather than the pan.
The most widely used, complete ingredient list of this era was: short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, snails (optional), duck (optional), butter beans, great northern beans, runner beans, artichoke (a substitute for runner beans in the winter), tomatoes, fresh rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, garlic (optional), salt, olive oil, and water.
Poorer Valencians, however, sometimes used nothing more than snails for meat. Valencians insist that only these ingredients should go into making the modern Valencian version of the recipe.
On the Mediterranean coast, Valencians used seafood instead of meat and beans to make paella. Valencians regard this recipe as authentic, as well. In this recipe, the seafood is served in the shell. A variant on this is paella del senyoret which uses seafood without shells.
Later, however, Spaniards living outside of Valencia combined seafood with meat from land animals and mixed paella was born. This paella is sometimes called preparación barroca (baroque preparation) due to the variety of ingredients and its final presentation. During the 20th century, paella’s popularity spread past Spain’s borders.
As other cultures set out to make the dish, the dish invariably acquired regional influences. Consequently, paella recipes went from being relatively simple to including a wide variety of seafood, meat, sausage (including chorizo), vegetables and many different seasonings. However, the most globally popular recipe is seafood paella. The 20th century also incidentally saw a resurgence of ancient Spanish recipes, including garum.
Throughout non-Valencian Spain, mixed paella is relatively easy to find. Some restaurants both in Spain and abroad that serve this mixed version refer to it as Valencian paella. However, Valencians insist that only the original two Valencian recipes are authentic, and generally view all others as inferior, not genuine or even grotesque.
After cooking paella, there is usually a layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan, called socarrat in Catalan. This is considered a delicacy among connoiseurs and is essential to a good paella. The toasted rice develops on its own if the paella is cooked over a burner or open fire.
Citizens, to properly make this recipe in its unadulterated, pure form will require work and investment on your part – but the end result TOTALLY justifies the means in this case!
First, you will need to make a seafood stock, part of which requires fresh clam juice – this is my preferred brand.
Next, you will need a proper Spanish paella pan – this more than any other item is a necessity to make this dish, so be sure and get the right size and one made only to the most rigid standards of authenticity. I prefer this one.
The proper kind of rice is the second most important item – use only the Spaniard-approved Bomba rice, which you can buy here. Saffron is a necessary foundational ingredient, so only get the best – this is my choice.
Spanish smoked bittersweet paprika is also a necessity – this is my go-to brand. Piquillo peppers that have been properly wood smoked can be bought here and Spanish olive oil may be purchased here. A secret ingredient in my recipe to give a bit of spicy heat is to add African piri piri seasoning, which may be bought here. Lastly, you need a dry sherry (as opposed to the more common sweet sherry) – I like this brand.
As to the cooking – a TRUE paella MUST be cooked over a wood-burning fire outdoors – any other method of cooking is heresy! So, I will only be sharing the correct method of cooking this – be sure you read the recipe carefully before starting to learn how to build a proper fire outdoors!
Citizen F.C. Nick – this one is for you and all the other members of TFD Nation to enjoy!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- For the seafood broth:
- 4 tbsp. Spanish olive oil
- Reserved shrimp shells from 1 pound medium-sized wild shrimp, heads-on
- 1 “chicken” lobster, cut into pieces
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- ⅓ cup dry sherry
- 6 ½ cups water
- 2 ½ cups top-quality bottled clam juice – TFD prefers Bar Harbour brand
- 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large chipotle chile in adobo
- 1 star anise (TFD addition, not in original Spanish recipe)
- Very large pinch saffron threads
- 1 tbsp. bittersweet smoked paprika
- 4 medium tomatoes, minced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and minced
- 1 small onion, minced
- 6 ½ cups seafood broth
- ½ cup “Flavor Bomb” made by combining ½ cup dry (NOT SWEET!) sherry, 1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds, 1 ½ tbsp. bittersweet smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, ½ tbsp. Piri Piri powder and ½ tbsp. saffron threads
- 2 ½ cups short-grain rice, preferably Valencia or bomba
- 1 ½ lbs. small clams, cleaned
- ½ lb. mussels, cleaned (optional – if you don’t like mussels, replace with small clams or with chopped monkfish fillet)
- 2 lbs. extra-large, head-on shrimp in the shell
- ½ lb. cuttlefish or small squid, cleaned and cut into 1″ pieces
- ½ lb. Atlantic lobster tail, still in the shell, split lengthwise and chopped into pieces
- To garnish:
- minced parsley
- wood-smoked piquillo peppers
- pitted castelvetrano olives
- lemon wedges
- Spanish alioli sauce, made from:
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh lemon juice
- Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the shrimp shells and chopped lobster and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to brown, 5 minutes longer. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the sherry and boil for 1 minute, then add the water and return to a boil. Stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, chipotle and saffron and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.
- Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing hard on the solids; you should have 6 ½ cups. Season with salt and combine with ½ cup of “flavor bomb”. Cover and keep warm over low heat.
- Make the alioli sauce:
- Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt. Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.) Add the lemon juice to the garlic.
- Drop by drop, pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle. Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady.
- Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go. Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time, around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar to create a dense, rich sauce.
- To make the fire:
- To set up a campfire for cooking, make sure the fire pit is large enough to hold a medium fire next to the grill grate. If the fire pit doesn’t have a grill grate, use one from your own grill and prop it on a few large rocks, leaving 6 to 8 inches of room to move logs and hot coals around underneath it. Leave space to move food away from the fire in case it’s cooking too fast.
- Start a campfire, (preferably using hickory or oak logs) continuously adding new logs to give yourself plenty of hot coals to work with. When some of the logs have burned down and are glowing red with gray ash, use tongs to move them under the grill grate. You want to avoid flames right underneath the grate.
- When you can hold your hand over the grate for just a few seconds before it’s too hot, you’re ready to start cooking. Keep adding wood and moving coals under the grate as needed while you cook.
- Heat olive oil and add the diced onions and bell pepper and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic and cook for another 10 minutes, until mixture has thickened slightly. This is called a sofrito, which serves as the base for paella and other Spanish and Latin American dishes as well.
- Add the rice, paprika, and saffron (if using) and stir to combine. Add the combined seafood broth and flavor bomb and stir until mixed well.
- At this point, it is important NOT to stir the paella. By not stirring you will allow the socarrat to form on the bottom of the pan.
- After about 10 minutes, add the seafood. Arrange them evenly on top of the rice, and again, do not stir. Let the paella cook, uncovered, for about another 20 minutes, rotating the pan occasionally to make sure the bottom cooks evenly.
- The paella is ready when all the liquid has been absorbed, the socarrat has developed and the seafood has cooked through (discard any clams or mussels that did not open).
- When it’s done, remove the pan from the heat, cover it with foil and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish before serving with parsley, piquillo peppers and olives and serve with alioli and lemon wedges on the side.
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