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Friday, March 16, 2018

Chef K's Paella

The national dish of Spain literally means "for her" it is para ella in Valencia, a dish made by the men of the region to give the women a break from cooking. Paella is not so much the dish, but rather it is the pan in which the dish is cooked, its roots is in the Latin word 'patella' meaning pan. Originally made as a luncheon dish for farm workers cooked over an open fire and “without” seafood, now it is the name for as many as 200 differing dishes in Valencia Spain alone. There as many recipes for Paella as there are cooks, as common with most comfort foods, it was made with rice (arroz in Spanish) and whatever else was nearby,chicken, rabbit or even snails.

The rich yellow color of Paella is derived from the addition of saffron, which is the stigmas of very tiny crocuses which grows freely in Spain, although it is the most costly of the spice world ($75 US per ounce), it is very common in Spain and easily found. There are only 3 stamens per flower so it takes a lot of flowers to make that ounce, yet it takes very little to flavor and color your Paella or Bouillabaisse, it is also great in risotto. Look carefully at the stigmas it should be only that, some are attached to a long, slender “style” which is white when picked and turns yellow when dried, trust me, it is not your style, so do not choose it, it has no culinary value, that means no aroma, flavor or color, it simply is used to add to the weight. Be sure to use ISO approved saffron, you’ll want, Saffron threads (Stigmas) that are all red (no other color). Saffron threads must be dry and brittle to the touch. Saffron aroma is strong and fresh, never musty, remember you’re paying a high dollar even for a very small amount you should get a very high quality for the dollar spend. Like anything that is priced very high there are counterfeiters out there, yellow, streaking, uneven color of red, are indications of “styles” made to be passed off as stigmas. Look for Sargol saffron, it is pure, potent and aromatic and flavors a recipe just right.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
Salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press 
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each thigh trimmed of excess fat and halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut pole to pole into 1/2-inch-wide strips
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the bias (Chorizo, Spanish sausage)
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
2 cups Valencia rice
3 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 dried bay leaf
1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position; heat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon of the garlic in a medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the pepper to a small plate and set aside.

Add 1 teaspoon oil to the Dutch oven; heat the oil until very hot. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer; cook, without moving the pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown on the second side: transfer the chicken to a reserved plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chorizo to the pot; cook, stirring frequently, until deeply browned and the fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a plate with the chicken, reserve.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to the fat in the Dutch; heat over medium heat until very hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes; stir in the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes; cook until the mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are well coated with the tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the chicken and chorizo to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the rice absorbs almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven (close the oven door to retain heat). Uncover the pot; scatter the shrimp over the rice, insert the mussels hinged-side down into the rice (so they stand upright), arrange the bell pepper strips in a pinwheel pattern, and scatter the peas over the top. Cover and return to the oven; cook until the shrimp are opaque and the mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.

When  soccarat is desired, set the Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot 180 degrees after about 2 minutes for even browning. (Soccarat, a layer of crusty browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, is a traditional part of paella.)

Let the paella stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened and the bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve, passing the lemon wedges separately.

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