The end of 2010 may have come and gone, but the end of winter — at least for most of us — is nowhere in sight. For those days when all you want to do is sit on the couch and eat microwave popcorn (and for me, this is about every day between December and March), paella is a great way to make yourself put down those fake butter-splashed morsels. It’s hearty, easy to make, and great for adding in those random vegetable leftovers you have hiding in the back of your fridge. And while the word may make visions of chorizo and crayfish dance in your head — it certainly did for me — it’s a dish that’s very easily adaptable to a kosher diet. Spanish Jewish communities have been making it as a weeknight dinner for centuries, adding in olives, fish, and eggplant.
Paella originated in Valencia in Eastern Spain, where field workers began making the dish in the mid-19th century. Traditionally, the meats used included rabbit, chicken, snails, and sometimes even marsh rat as seafood wasn’t commonly eaten in the area. As the popularity of the dish spread, different Spanish communities put their own twist on it, using varying mixtures of meats and vegetables. This recipe is closer to the original Valencian paella than the popular shellfish-heavy version from Barcelona, but is just as chock full of flavor.
I used smoked beef sausage and chicken thighs, but you can also use turkey or chicken sausage. The mushrooms, peas, and bell peppers can also be swapped out for any other sort of chopped veggies you have on hand, particularly those that can hold up to a long stint in the oven (think green beans, squash, and even eggplant). Pretty much the only constant is the delicious Mediterranean combination of onions, garlic, saffron, and olive oil, plus, of course, the medium grain rice baked in broth. The crunchy bottom layer of semi-burned rice known as the socarrat, which many consider the measure of a good paella, is a bit tricky to obtain, but I used the New York Times’ Mark Bittman’s tip — let the rice cool after its cooked and then put it on a very hot burner for about five minutes. (It should still be hot enough to eat.) The recipe below is a mélange of a few different ones, including Bittman’s from “How to Cook Everything” and my parents’ take on the dish, plus a couple of my own touches. Bon Appetit!
Serves 5 to 7
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch of saffron threads
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic minced
3 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 pound of chicken (cut up portions of breast or thighs)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup green peas
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 ½ cups medium-grained rice (like Arborio)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large smoked beef sausage, sliced
1 cup tomato puree
1) Put the pinch of saffron threads in ½ cup of warm water and set aside. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat with the oil. Brown the chicken thighs and sausage for a few minutes on each side, sprinkled with salt and pepper.
2) Remove the chicken and in the remaining oil, sauté the onions and garlic until they become fragrant and golden. Add the tomato puree and the vegetables. Toss and simmer for a few minutes. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan.
3) Sprinkle the rice evenly across the top. Add the thyme, paprika, cayenne, and the saffron along with the water it’s been soaking in. Add the broth and stir.
4) Put into the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Check on the rice about 25 minutes in. If the liquid has evaporated by the rice still seems a bit too al dente, add in more stock or water. Once the rice is done, turn off the oven and let the dish sit for ten minutes.
5) To get a nice socarrat, cover the pan with foil and put it on the burner on high for a few minutes. You’ll know you’re getting the right effect when the rice begins to crackle. Serve drizzled with a little oil or with some parsley if you want.