The Spanish Tavern, closed several years ago, was famous for their mixed seafood paella and that is just what Rob ordered for dinner. Served in a disposable, aluminum pan, not unlike a lasagna pan, this paella was a beautiful sight. The rice, seasoned and colored with classic Spanish saffron, was cooked perfectly. Mixed in with the rice were fresh mussels and clams, tender calamari and shrimp, boneless chicken, and delicious, salty chorizo, a spicy Spanish sausage. But that's not all; the pièce de résistance of this paella was a whole steamed Maine lobster, split in half, resting on top of this already perfect pan of paella. This amazing meal may not have been the first time I ate paella but it was certainly one of the most memorable times.
Then there was Mexico in 2005. J and I were celebrating our one year anniversary at the Iberostar Paraiso Beach Resort on the Riviera Maya. One afternoon while lounging on the beach, we noticed a HUGE pan of paella being cooked over an open fire. This paella pan, a traditional paella pan, must have been five feet across. The paella lunch was part of a weekly beach party held at the resort that included live music and a bikini contest, which I did not win. With all these wonderful paella memories, it's surprising that I've never attempted to make paella, until now.
Paella is generally considered the national dish of Spain. However, if you ask a Spaniard, they will tell you the dish is from Valencia, Spain's third largest city on the Mediterranean coast. The word paella was used to describe the wide, flat pan that this rice dish is made in, but came to describe the actually food as well. Considered by many a laborers meal, paella was originally made in the fields of Valencia. Classic Paella Valenciana is made with chicken, rabbit, snails and beans, all items generally available in and around the fields of Valencia with snails being the most common because of their availability and cost (free if foraged.) Chicken and rabbit, while still common, were saved for more special occasions.
The paella that most people think of when they hear the word paella is Paella Marisco, or seafood paella. This variation, while not the original, is still considered a classic, traditional, Spanish dish and contains contains seafood like shrimp, mussels and calamari and can also contain meat like chicken and chorizo. For my recreation of the classic Spanish paella, I am making a Paella Marisco containing chicken, chorizo, calamari, shrimp, mussels, and clams. This is the dish I remember from The Spanish tavern, without the lobster which is definitely not a traditional Spanish ingredient. And one more thing, paellas are traditionally cooked outdoors over an open fire, so I'll be cooking my paella over a charcoal fire in my Weber Kettle grill. I also do not own a classic paella pan, so I'll be using a large saute pan.
Chimney starter used to start charcoal fire
Two level fire (hot side and cool side) built in grill
Black forest bacon rendered down
Diced onions sweated in bacon fat
Chicken added to onions to cook
Diced tomatoes added to chicken and onions
After chorizo cooked for a few minutes, rice added and coated well with mixture. Water added next
After about 15-20 minutes of cooking, calamari and shrimp are added. Mussels and clams are added a few minutes later for the 4-5 minutes of cooking.
Seafood Paella, garnished with diced red pepper and a lemon wedge
One important part of classic paella is the crispy bottom of the pan. To get this crispy bottom, it is important that you do not stir the pan once the seafood is added to the mixture. If you must stir in the seafood, be careful not to scrape the bottom or else you will disturb the much sought after crispy bottom layer!
Adapted from Lisa & Tony Sierra, About.com Guide
1 yellow onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 lb bacon, diced
1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 lb chorizo sausage, sliced into disks
1/2 lb calamari (squid) cleaned and sliced into rings
3/4 lbs raw shrimp, medium
2 cups medium or short grain rice
4-6 cups water (I added 6 cups and it was a little too much.)
1 teaspoon Spanish Saffron
1 dozen or more mussels
1 dozen or more littleneck clams
1 red pepper seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Light a full chimney of briquette or hardwood charcoal
2. When charcoal is lit, about 10 minutes, create a two level fire in your charcoal grill
3. Place pan on hot side of the fire and add bacon to pan. Cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy. Remove bacon from the pan and save for something else.
4. Saute onions in bacon fat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes
5. Add chicken to pan and cook until chicken starts to brown, another 3-4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to season the chicken.
6. Add diced tomato to pan and stir
7. Add sliced chorizo to pan and cook for a 2-3 minutes
8. Add two cups of medium grain rice, bomba rice is best if you can find it. Stir until coated with from fat and juices in pan.
9. Add water, saffron, salt and pepper to taste. Stir, and cover to bring to a boil. Traditionally, paella is cooked without being covered but I wanted to get the water boiling quickly.
10. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, then add in calamari and shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes.
11. Add mussels and clams to top of pan and cover, cooking another 4-5 minutes or just until mussels and clams have opened. The mussels will open first, with the clams taking a couple minutes longer to cook.
12. Taste rice, adjust the seasoning if necessary.
13. Serve, garnishing with lemon wedges and diced red pepper.