A trip to Spain isn’t complete without enjoying a big dish of paella. Many countries have made dishes based on rice a staple throughout history. And although rice originated in Asia it has spread far and wide and is enjoyed along with the local ingredients until it becomes their own.
Paella is one of them. When the Moors invaded Spain they brought rice with them and in time their dishes of rice and seafood made rice a base for many Spanish dishes.
Paella, like many dishes throughout time, has evolved from country to city. Originally a dish eaten by agricultural laborers it was a simple combination of rice, snails and vegetables cooked over an open fire and shared right from the pan with wooden spoons. Closer to the coastline, Valencians added eel and other ingredients including butter beans. Paella remained in this basic form for many more years until the 18th century when fortunes improved and chorizo, chicken and seafood were added and slowly became the paella most known today. Ingredients have come and gone and paella is a dish that becomes personalized by its creator.
The name “paella” derives from the Old French word for pan and today, the pan is called a paellera, but that term evolved only after paella became popular. Paelleras are round and shallow, made of polished steel with two handles. There are even woven baskets that fit the pan as well as double-gauge steel paella pans to make a nicer presentation at the table.
The crowning ingredient and what makes paella the beautiful tradition that it is may just be saffron. Saffron grows wild in Spain and is what gives modern paella its signature vibrant yellow color and unique and subtle flavor. Saffron is prized the world over and a pricey ingredient but it wouldn’t be paella without it.
Paella has even spread across the world, including being brought to Louisiana by European immigrants to become jambalaya, itself a traditional dish with its own traditions and variations.
But even more wonderful than reading about paella is cooking and eating it! So try the recipe below and enjoy!
6 cups very strong chicken broth (bouillon)
1/2 tsp saffron
1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)
1 small onion, peeled
2 small chickens, about 2-1/2 lbs each
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 lb of cooking chorizo, in 1/4 inch slices
1/4 lb piece jamón serrano ham, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
4 tbsp chopped garlic
2 roasted piquillo peppers
1 lb small or medium shrimp, shelled
2 (Optional) Live lobsters, boiled, split and divided into tail sections and claws (discard or keep the head and small claws); or
4 (Optional) Lobster tails, split lengthwise;
8 (Optional) King crab claws; or
8 jumbo shrimp, in their shells, preferably heads on
3 cups short grain Spanish rice such as Bomba or Calasparra
5 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 lb fresh or frozen peas
18 clams and/or mussels, scrubbed
Lemon wedges for garnish
Parsley for garnish
Heat the broth with the saffron, pimentón and the whole onion. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the onion and measure the broth — you need exactly 5-1/2 cups.
Cut the chickens into small serving pieces — the whole breast in 4 parts, each thigh into 2 parts, the bony tip of the leg chopped off, the wing tip discarded, and the rest of the wing separated into 2 parts. Dry the pieces well and sprinkle with salt.
In a metal Paella pan, with about a 15 inch base, heat the oil. Add the chicken pieces and fry over high heat until golden. Remove to a warm platter. Add the chorizo, and jamón to the pan and stir fry about 10 minutes. Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimentos and saute until the onion is wilted. Add the shrimp and the lobster and saute about 3 minutes more, or until the shrimp and lobster barely turn pink (the lobster will cook more in the oven.) Remove the shrimp and lobster to the platter with the chicken. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil. Sprinkle in the 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley and the crumbled bay leaves. (You can make in advance up to this point.)
Stir in the chicken broth, boiling hot, the wine, rice, and peas. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat about 10 minutes. Bury the shrimp and the chicken in the rice. Add the clams and the mussels, pushing them into the rice, with the edge that will open facing up. Decorate the paella with the lobster pieces, then bake at 325 F, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. To serve, decorate with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.
Lobster can be a little expensive, so replace it with a comparable amount of shrimp if you wish!
Recipe credit: Spain GourmeTour magazine.