Catalan-Style Paella

It has been a while since I visited Spain, but I still remember some of the delicious food I experienced while there.  One of my favorite cooking classes I teach is Spanish Tapas and Paella.  I’ve found sources in the U.S. for Spanish ingredients, including chorizo, cheeses, olive oil, pimento, paprika, and rice.  My favorite source is a shop called The Spanish Table in Berkeley, California.  Their mail order service is outstanding, and they have a great supply of paella pans.

Before I traveled to Spain I did a lot of research on traditional paella, the native dish of Valencia on the east coast just south of Barcelona. I bought a paella pan, the Spanish paella rice, and all the ingredients I needed.  But I couldn’t wait to try the “real thing”. I had my first authentic paella in Barcelona, and it was love at first bite. I picked it apart, took pictures, and then devoured it, knowing I would do my best to perfect my own at home.

Paella is a rice dish cooked uncovered in a wide, flat paella pan.  It looks similar to a deep dish pizza pan.  They are made in many different sizes, and some are made to feed 500 people over an open fire. It is important to use short grain rice (preferably from Spain, but you can use Arborio rice, which is used for risotto).  Short grain rice absorbs liquid beautifully, and becomes full of all the flavors in the paella. If you ask someone in Valencia, where paella originated, or about the proper ingredients in paella, you would get a variety of answers. It would be similar to asking a BBQ master in Kansas City and one in Teas what the correct sauce would be for BBQ pork. 

There is no “right” answer. Typically, the ingredients used in Spain are those that are available, or those that are leftover from the previous week’s meals. If you live on the coast, your paella will have lots of seafood. If you live inland, you’ll have more pork, rabbit, or chicken. But you’ll always have sweet red peppers, olive oil, saffron, smoked paprika, and rich stock. And although you don’t need a paella pan, it is helpful for presentation, and also to create the crisp crust of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan, called the socarrat, which is a delicacy. 

2 tablespoons almonds
2 tablespoons pinenuts
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 pinch saffron threads
Kosher salt
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
1/4 pound diced ham
1/2 pound spicy sausage, sliced
3 red bell peppers, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
2 medium tomatoes chopped
3 cups short grain rice (preferably rice for paella, but can use Arborio)
6 tablespoon fresh or frozen green peas
12 artichoke hearts (frozen or canned)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread almonds and pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden, about 7 minutes.  In a mini-processor, grind the almonds, pine nuts, garlic, parsley, saffron, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Add about a tablespoon of water and continue to process until it becomes a paste. 

Pour the broth into a saucepan and keep warm on the stove until needed.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 17” paella pan or large Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Saute the chicken, ham, and sausage until lightly browned.  Add remaining oil, red peppers and onions.  Saute until the vegetables are softened, then stir in paprika and tomatoes.  Lower heat and cook for 15 minutes.  Stir in the rice and stir, coating the rice well with the pan mixture.  Pour in the hot broth and bring to a boil.  Taste for salt, then add the nut mixture, peas, and artichokes.  Continue to boil, stirring until the rice is tender and done to your liking.  You may need to cover pan with lid or foil to cook a bit faster. 

Remove from heat and serve.

MainsEvan Wei-Haas