I used to call this dish paella until my interpretation of it was questioned by a certain wisenheimer friend of ours. We invited him and a bunch of other people over for a paella party a while back. The evening started off just fine. Everybody was drinking wine and snacking on an assortment of tapas we set out. The mood was light as our guest’s anticipation built for the colorful bowls of saffron rice and seafood we promised them.
It was all going as planned. I excused myself from the table after about 30 minutes or so and went into the kitchen to prepare the main course. A few minutes later, Mr. Know-it-all snuck in behind me. “Why are there so many pots and pans on the stove?” was the first thing out of his mouth. “I’m making the paella” was my reply. He began the inquisition by questioning my methods. “Paella…?! I thought paella was made in one large pan?” The conversation went downhill from there.
I tried to explain how the traditional method of cooking paella requires great skill and perfect timing to ensure every ingredient is properly cooked. Then I provided him with a detailed explanation of why I decided to cook each ingredient separately and assemble the dish right before serving. Hopefully, he understood why I wanted to make sure each component was cooked properly. I concluded my dissertation with the ubiquitous belief that “Nobody likes a bowl of soupy or under cooked rice”.
“But what about the crunchy layer of rice formed on the bottom of the pan? That’s the best part!” He interrupted. “Damn! He knows about the socarrat.” I thought to myself. “This is not going to end well…”
The next thing I knew, he was back in the living room announcing to the crowd’, “We’re not having paella, everybody! I think he’s making seafood pilaf…!” The jovial banter that previously filled the room turned into muted whispers of disbelief. “Seafood Pilaf?! What happened to the paella…?” All I could do was retreat back into the kitchen and finish preparing the pilaf purgatory I was about to cast my guests into.
As penance for my transgressions, I was subjected to fire and brimstone sermons over dinner thinly disguised as friendly small talk. One guest compared and contrasted the differences in paella served in Valencia to that served in Barcelona. Another touted the virtues of the paellera, the large round pan used to make paella by Spanish fishermen on the banks of the Mediterranean.
The lectures continued well into everybody’s third serving. At the end of the meal, all the bowls were empty and there were no leftovers. Imagine what the party would have been like if I had actually served paella.
Seafood Rice Pilaf –
Ingredients for the court bullion:
- ½ cup dry wine
- ¼ white wine or champagne vinegar
- 1 medium onion half cut into large slices (the other half should be cut into small dice for the rice)
- 1 stalk of celery cut into large pieces
- 1 carrot scraped and cut into large dice
- 2 bay leaves
- Ten black peppercorns
Ingredients for the rice:
- 2 tablespoon olive oil divided
- 1 small red bell pepper cut into small dice
- 2 links of chorizo or sweet Italian sausage (optional)
- 2 chicken thighs skin and bone removed, cut into cubes (optional)
- 3 1/2 cups of seafood of chicken stock
- Pinch of saffron threads
- The other half of onion (from above) cut into small dice
- 2 cups converted (Parboiled) rice
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- One 1lb lobster
- 18 littleneck clams scrubbed clean
- 2 dozen mussels scrubbed clean and beards removed
- 3/4 pound of shrimp (16-20’s) shells removed and deveined
- ½ lb firm white flesh fish (such as swordfish, monkfish, etc) cut into cubes
- ½ cup frozen peas
- Salt and pepper
Prepare the court bullion –
Place 4 cups of water into a large stock pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rest of the court bullion ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Keep warm until the seafood is ready to be poached.
Prepare the rice –
Choose a medium sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid. Set lid aside and heat one tablespoon of oil in pan until shimmering.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan and cook until lightly browned on the outside and fully cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm until final dish is assembled.
Add chorizo to pan. Cook until lightly brown on the outside and fully cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm until final dish is assembled. Remove all rendered fat from pan.
Add stock and saffron into a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over low heat.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Sauté the red pepper until it is tender but not mushy. Remove pepper from pan and keep warm until final dish is assembled.
Add onion to the pan. Sauté the onion until it turns translucent. Add red pepper flakes. Stir a few times to toast the flakes in the hot oil.
Add rice to pan. Stir until each grain is coated with oil. Add hot stock to rice and stir to ensure rice does not clump. Bring rice and stock to a boil. Stir once or twice then cover saucepan. Lower heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and let rice rest for 15 minutes more. Note: Do not remove the lid at any time during the 15 minutes of simmering and the 15 minutes the rice stands off heat.
After the rice rests for 15 minutes, fluff with a fork and add the sautéed red peppers and green peas. Return cover and keep warn until you are ready to assemble the rest of the dish.
Prepare the seafood –
While rice is cooking, raise heat on court bullion and bring to a lively simmer. Poach or steam each seafood component separately.
Begin with the lobster. Place in stock pot, cover and steam for 10-15 minutes until a bright red color is achieved, Remove lobster from pot and keep warm until final assembly of the dish. Skim off any impurities for the court bullion the lobster may have released.
Proceed to steam or poach the rest of the seafood separately, removing each variety from the stock pot when they are done and keeping them warm until you are ready to assemble the final dish.
Assemble the final dish –
Place rice in a large serving bowl. Cut up lobster and add to bowl. Slice chorizo if using and add to bowl along with the rest of the seafood ingredients. Fold the ingredients together to incorporate the seafood into the rice.