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Quick paella

QuickpaellaContinuing our rerun theme, lately we seem to have been falling back on our standbys — dishes so deeply entrenched in our repertoire, we built a cookbook around them last year. Paella was one of the anchor recipes (the other was kofta … guess it’s time to make that again).

We’ve been making paella for years, even well before we ever set foot in Spain. In fact, we were rather disappointed by the paellas in Spain, but I suspect it was because we were eating in restaurants and not at an abuelita’s table in a peasant village.

Full-on paella is a project, and can  take the better part of a day to pull together. However, you can cut some corners to make the time pass more easily, and the flavor won’t suffer unduly. In this case, we had both drumsticks leftover from the roast chicken, and that was what kicked this off.

Of course you’re supposed to have a real paella pan — one of those wide, flat, shallow pans that maximizes surface area and creates the best crust on the bottom. Yes, that’s all good and well if you’re cooking over an open fire in the backyard. For those of us at home, a 12" fryer does very nicely, thank you. Just don’t use non-stick — you really want  that crusty bottom. Mmm … crusty bottom.

The real trick is seasoning — you have to do it all up front, so salt generously and often. Once everything gets composed in the pan, if it’s not properly seasoned, it’s not going to be. So be sure to season the chicken, salt each vegetable as you add it, and season the stock well. If you think it’s too salty, it probably isn’t.

My favorite bits are the clams and mussels that fill with rice as they open in the pan, commingling with their briney juices. Well, that and the crusty bottom.

Paella is excellent food for entertaining for two reasons: It’s a one-pot wonder, and it goes into the oven just as guests are arriving, minimizing mess. Oh, and it tastes great and it’s got something for everyone. So there’s at least four reasons why you should make paella for your guests. The abbreviated paella recipe, and a bonus shot from the cookbook, after the jump.

Quick paella
1-2 chorizo or other sausage
2 chicken legs and thighs, skin on
4-8 large shrimp (the ones we got were bigger than my head!), shell-on but veined if desired
4-6 clams and/or mussels, cleaned
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 c. frozen peas (optional)
2 c. chicken stock
good pinch of saffron
1 c. short-grain rice
6-8 lemon wedges

In a small saucepan, heat stock and season well. Add saffron to stock to bloom. Pre-heat oven to 350ยบ.

Remove skin from the sausage, crumble and brown in a 12" fryer or other wide, flat pan over medium heat. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. When the pan reheats, sear the chicken legs and thighs until brown all over. Again, remove and set aside.

Make the sofrito: In the same pan, in the fat rendered by the sausage and chicken, saute the onion until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot and red pepper and continue to saute until soft, approx. 5-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until it forms a paste.

Add the rice and sausage and toss in the sofrito, covering the grains and lightly toasting them for a minute or so. Add the stock and stir to mix evenly. Add the chicken pieces, arranged  evenly around the pan. In the crevices between the chicken bits, insert the shrimp, clams and/or mussels, being sure to put the shellfish joint-down so they open upward (and the rice fills the cavity … mmmm). Push everything in as deep as possible. Do not disturb the paella further from this point.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the rice is dry and a crust forms on top. Sprinkle peas over top if desired. Remove, and let rest off heat covered with a kitchen towel for several minutes to cool and to allow the crust to form on the bottom. Garnish with lemon wedges. Serve at will!

(Serves 4 generously)

Photo of full-on paella copyright DPaul Brown, 2006.

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