This past weekend, I got together with Marisol of Tiny Kitchen Treats at her UES apartment and she basically won my heart. Not only is she a badass for starting her own creative, adorable cookie company, she’s also part Spanish, part Colombian and knows how to make an authentic paella – a traditional rice dish from Valencia that’s seasoned with saffron and typically made with seafood, chicken or rabbit, or a mixture.
I remember the first time I had a real deal paella. There were some restaurants in Madrid that served paella, but I never ate in them – I knew better because my Spanish friends taught me that the best paella: a) comes from Valencia, and is not a blanket “Spanish” dish; and b) is homemade. My first paella happened when I was working as an English teacher at a summer camp in the Valencian countryside. You may be thinking – oh how idyllic, I bet you were at the beach every day. No. Nope. Not at all. We weren’t anywhere near the beach. We were at an isolated compound in the middle of nowhere. The land was hot and dry, desert-like, and the only refuge was a salt water pool. And the wine we drank at lunch and dinner. And the food.
It took two grown people, each holding a handle, to carry the giant paelleras from the shack in which the paella was cooked over an open fire, and into the cafeteria. Forty kids and a handful of counselors were fed from a couple of giant pans, filled with chicken, vegetables, and (sorry vegetarians) rabbits that I had seen hopping around the compound the day before, and topped with just-picked rosemary. Delicious isn’t even the word.
Marisol and I decided to join forces and make a paella mixta – a mixture of both seafood and chicken – mar y tierra. At around noon on Saturday, we started drinking mimosas and cooking, with Marisol guiding me through the process. By the time we popped a second bottle of Prosecco, the alcohol to orange juice ratio had shifted in favor of the bubbly and Marisol had taken the steering wheel. We cooked our paella until the rice was al dente and a little crunchy on the edges. Talk about a perfect addition to the B2S repertoire. Happy Monday (if that’s possible), chicos. Cocinamos!
p.s. don’t you worry, you’ll be hearing more about Marisol on an upcoming B2S questionnaire. xxo
- 4 jumbo shrimp
- 4 chicken thighs, cut into quarters
- 1 red bell pepper, de-cored and de-seeded, cut into thin strips
- 1 handful of string beans with the very ends snapped off
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 cups of medium grain rice (like arborio)
- 3-4 cups of water
- 1 or 2 pinches saffron
- 1 packet of colorante or a paella seasoning packet – it would be nice if we could use 100% pure saffron, but the real stuff is pricey in the states, so this is a useful supplement
- kosher salt to taste
- a few tablespoons olive oil
- Pour a couple glugs of olive oil into a large paella pan. When pan is hot, add shrimp, throw on some salt. Brown shrimp on each side, then remove to a separate bowl. Don’t pour out the olive oil!
- Using the same pan and same olive oil, add peppers, salt, and cook until browned. Remove about half of the peppers to a separate bowl, reserving the olive oil.
- Add chicken and string beans, throw on a few pinches of salt. Cook chicken until brown on all sides, then remove chicken to separate bowl.
- Add tomatoes and garlic, salt again. Cooking stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down.
- Add half of the rice to the pan. Stir and allow it to cook until the rice browns a bit, 1 – 2 minutes.
- Add the other half of the rice and stir. Let it cook for a minute then add 3 cups of water, reserving 1 cup for later if needed, and add the saffron.
- Stir, then taste for salt.
- Place shrimp chicken and red peppers on top of mixture and *decorate* as you like (the traditional way is to place everything radiating out from the center, like spokes on a wheel). Press chicken and shrimp down a bit so that the rice cooks around it.
- Cover with tin foil and cook for 20 minutes.
- Taste the rice (a little from the center and a little from the edge) to test for doneness. If water is mostly absorbed and rice is still crunchy, add reserved water. Add more salt to taste. Cover and continue to cook.
- When water is absorbed and rice is al dente, uncover and let cool slightly.
- Place paella pan in the middle of your table, and allow your lunch or dinner guests to scrape out their own serving with spoons, reminding them to take some of the “socorrat”, which is the burnt, crispy part on the bottom of the pan that has the best flavor.
- Add more crunchy salt as desired.
WHERE DO I BUY AN AUTHENTIC PAELLA PAN, AKA PAELLERA??
Check out the selection from La Paella, a family-run business started by a fellow Spano-phile and based in Long Island City.