Paella at Home
Paella is surprisingly simple and oh so good.
I had heard that paella was a difficult thing to make. While I enjoy tapas, I can't say that I have any great understanding of, or experience with, Spanish food. I know I like Spanish cheeses (Manchego is one of my faves) and Spanish wine (if you haven't tried the big reds from Priorat, I highly recommend them). I know I love Serrano and Iberico ham, but come on, everything I had eaten in the past that was Spanish didn't require cooking. All I had to do was unwrap, slice or assemble.

Paella held a culinary spot in my mind as a complicated (so many ingredients) and expensive (both saffron and seafood can set you back a hefty sum) traditional dish that I shouldn't attempt making until I had either a) met someone from Spain who could show me how it is really done, or b) eaten so much of it in restaurants that I felt I had a handle on what it should and shouldn't be. I honestly had only eaten paella once or twice (ever, and several years earlier at that) and I didn't want to just boil rice, add sausage and paprika and call it paella. No, this dish required respect. And until I could give it that respect I was going to leave it well enough alone.

Imagine my surprise then, when paella literally fell in my lap. For Christmas a few years ago, my in-laws gave me a Zingerman's Culinary Society membership as a present. If you haven't heard of Zingerman's, it's an assortment of food-related companies in Ann Arbor, MI. When I refer to Zingerman's, I'm really referring to their mail order food supplies. Check them out on my SOURCES page.

Anyway, my first shipment of this mail order club comes in the mail and in it is a "Paella start up kit" including a paella pan from Spain, paella rice and a jar of Spanish sofrito (basically peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes sauteed together). Also included, two recipes. I don't know if it was kismet or just dumb luck, but the week earlier Whole Foods had Spanish chorizo (cured sausage vs the fresh "Mexican" variety) and saffron on sale and on a whim I had bought both. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me it was time. But here I found myself with the tools and building blocks for "real" paella, so I was ready and set to conquer the dish.

My first attempt was simply delicious. Savory, complex, smoky, meaty, hearty, comforting, all come to mind. My husband raved, and it has been a standard in my home ever since. I've changed the recipe up a bit, the paella I have pictured above is not my first attempt (my first attempt was extremely traditional, the carrots in the pan were not used, and I had seafood in my first attempt as well), but rather one of the many iterations I've made. I've used seafood (mussels and shrimp are popular, big prawns are my hubby's favorite) which is traditional, but now leave that expense only if I'm making it for company. I do have essential ingredients though that I will not even consider making paella without. You can try and you might like it, but when I want paella, I will not be satisfied unless I have these ingredients: Spanish chorizo (the ONLY sausage to use, nothing else even comes close), chicken thighs (I use boneless/skinless because I think the sausage makes it rich enough, but feel free to use with skin and bones) smoked sweet paprika, paella rice (or other short grain rice), sofrito veggies (onion, chile pepper, garlic, tomato), saffron (I know its expensive, but there is nothing quite like it). If you've got these things and a paella pan (honestly a frying pan will do) you are all set to make paella. By the way, the proportions of the recipe are for serving 6 (with leftovers) you can easily scale this up or down. I make it for 2 all the time.

Boozy Epicure's Paella Recipe
Serves 6 easily

Olive Oil
1 Real Spanish chorizo (I like Palacio's, sweet or hot depending how spicy you like it, I like em both)
6 chicken thighs
1/2 tsp saffron threads (maybe a half gram, you don't need a lot)
2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large chile finely chopped (if you don't like heat, you can use 1 big red or green bell peppers, I tend to mix and match whatever chiles I have on hand)
1 tomato, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups paella rice (I like Bomba the best, it is short grain and absorbs a ton of liquid, if you can't find it and use another, you probably will not need all the broth/water)
6 pints chicken broth or water
8 oz green beans (or any vegetable of your choice, I've used peas, carrots, combinations, even frozen vegetables)
salt/pepper to taste
flat leaf parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

Put your paella pan over medium heat, slice the chorizo (whatever size you like, I tend to prefer a thick dice so you get meaty chunks but not so big that only chorizo fits in a forkful). Add about a tblsp of oil to the pan and add your chorizo, you want it to color your pan red and give off it's tasty goodness. Don't have the heat too high though, you are rendering the fat, not browning the sausage. Season your chicken thighs with salt and pepper, push the chorizo to the outside edges of the pan and put your chicken thighs in the center. Your goal is to brown both sides of the thighs in that glorious chorizo oil, don't worry about cooking the thighs all the way through, that will come later.

When the chicken is browned on all sides, pull it out of the pan and set aside, then add in the finely chopped onion, chiles and tomato to the pan for their turn in the chorizo (and now also chicken) drippings. When the veggies start to soften, add half the stock and the saffron to the pan, mix it all around and turn the heat up to high. Let it boil for just five minutes then turn the heat to low and let it simmer (so the chorizo, vegetables and saffron have time to infuse the stock) for about 20 minutes.

Now it's time to add the rest of the broth and tun the heat to high so its boiling again. Add seasoning to taste. Add the rice to the pan (I hear it is traditional to add it in a cross shaped pattern across the pan, I don't know what that does but I do it) and check that you have enough liquid, feel free to add more chicken stock or water (it should seem like you have twice as much liquid as rice). Stir the rice just once or twice (don't stir too much) and nestle the chicken thighs in the rice and broth.

Cook for five minutes on high heat, then turn the heat to medium and cook for another five minutes. Next turn the heat to low and cook another 10 minutes (that's 20 minutes total). You don't want to overcook the rice, so manage a lid or foil while you are cooking. If it is looking low on liquid, cover it, if it is looking wet, keep it uncovered and don't worry if the rice gets a little burned (not charred, but brown an stuck) to the bottom of the pan. That crust is called socarrat and is prized in traditional paella. I actually think this is where a traditional paella pan excels, those little dimples allow the bottom to get brown and crusty, but they still release. What you want is for the rice to be fully cooked (but still a touch al dente in the center) and all the liquid absorbed. After the 20 minutes of cooking time, take the pan off the heat and let it rest at least five minutes to let the rice finish absorbing the liquid and let the dish set. Right before serving I sprinkle the top with parsley and garnish with lemon wedges (a natural if you use seafood, but somehow the acidity brightens the dish even if there isn't seafood in your paella.) I like to just put the paella, pan and all, on the table with a serving spoon and let people dig in.

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