Paella is a dish that often evokes a sense of celebration. It's traditionally made for gatherings and celebrations. I'm definitely breaking from tradition here and walking the fine line of authenticity; therefore, I'm hesitant to actually call my dish paella. For one thing, I'm not even cooking it in a proper pan. The name of the flat-bottomed pan that is used to make paella is also called paella. My paella pan is big enough for 8. Not a good fit for Wednesday night. So, I've opted for a more utilitarian saute pan.
I love dishes like paella because of its authenticity. I love the nerdiness of seeking out all of the finer details of the different variations and the qualites that embody authenticity. When you do research on paella, you come to realize the fierce regionality of this dish. Even in Valencia, the origin of this famous rice dish, you will probably find those who will argue what is the most traditional version. There are disagreements about the type of rice that should be used. You could go on and on.
To me there are a couple of ingredients and components of paella that really make it for me. First, it's important to use a short grain rice. You can find basic Valencia rice but if you can find Calasparra or Bomba, even better. But don't get too hung up on the specific "varietal" of rice...there's that nerdiness thing again...just make sure it's short grain. You can even use Arborio or another Italian rice you'd use for risotto. Another important ingredient for me is Spanish chorizo. It has an incredible flavor that's difficult to replicate with another sausage. It's becoming much more readily available so I'd seek it out. The last thing that's important in paella is not an ingredient but a result of the way it is cooked. That thing is called socarrat. Socarrat is the crispy, caramelized bottom layer of rice. When you cooke paella, you don't stir it. So, the bottom layer of rice remains on the bottom the entire time and will crisp up after all of the liquid has been absorbed.
What about saffron? Saffron embodies that element of specialness. It's expensive and you use it in small quantities. It's a luxury that you break out for a special feast. If you have it use it. I think you shouldn't keep saving those "special" ingredients for an occasion that's never going to be special enough. You know what I mean? That being said, it's kind of subtle and I could take it or leave it. I do think that paella requires a certain aromatic element that will lend a special flavor to the paella, as saffron would. So I use smoked paprika (pimentón.) I love smoked paprika. You should try it!
My version here is scaled down for a quick weeknight meal. I just use a base of onions and garlic but you could definitely throw a little tomato into the mix - fresh, canned, paste, etc. I use a saute pan with a lid. If you have an appropriately-sized paella pan, by all means, use it.
So who has made paella before? I'd love to read about the different ways people make their own version.
Ingredients: 1 small diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 sliced Spanish chorizo, 1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 cup Spanish rice, 3-4 cups of chicken broth, smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper
- In a hot saute pan, add a little olive oil and add your sliced chorizo and cook for a couple of minutes until the edges start to crisp up and some of the oil has rendered out.
- Remove the cooked chorizo.
- In the remaining fat, cook your onions until they begin to get translucent, 4-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the rice and smoked paprika and cook with the onions and garlic for 1 minute.
- Add the broth. This type of rice usually require a 3:1 ratio of liquid to rice. I'd start with 3 cups but you may need to add a little more if the liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is not quite cooked all the way.
- Add a half teaspoon of Kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper.
- Add back the chorizo and give it a good stir.
- Now turn the heat to medium low and leave it alone.
- You can cover it but I like to let it simmer away for a few minutes before I put the lid on. Just don't stir it!
- When the liquid is almost all absorbed, add the shrimp and peas on top and close the lid.
- Let it cook for a few minutes longer until all of the liquid is absorbed, the shrimp is cooked, and you can hear the rice starting to sizzle on bottom of the pan.
- You can lift a little rice up at one edge to see if the rice is beginning to crisp up and to make sure it's not burning.
- Take it off the heat, and gently stir in the shrimp & peas to incorporate.
- Serve it with optional lemon wedges for squeezing on top.
NOTE: You can definitely add some tomato product with the onions in the beginning. You can also garnish the finished paella with roasted red peppers or, if you can find them,