Sunday, March 21, 2010


KRAMER: Oh, you should have gone to the Costanzas' for dinner. Mmm, the paella was magnificent. Have you ever had really good paella?


KRAMER: Oh, it's an orgiastic feast for the senses. The want and the festival, the sights, sounds, and colors and... mmmummumm mumm

Paella really is a feast for the senses. It's one of those dishes that makes you say "oooooo" - the bright colors, the smell of the saffron, shellfish, and chorizo, and the the textures of the variety of ingredients. Look at this gigantic paella we saw at the outdoor market in St-Tropez last year on our honeymoon.

Every time I see it made on tv I think "I should really try this". A few weeks ago I saw a Barefoot Contessa episode where she made lobster paella, and just a couple days ago on the Today show Curtis Stone made his version. But the tv paella that really stuck with me was the real deal - last year there was a show on public television called "Spain - On The Road Again" with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow, where they drove around Spain to go on eating adventures and one episode brought them to Valencia to watch a paella "zen master" work his magic. For my recipe, I chose the flavors of a Batali recipe but the measurements of the Curtis Stone recipe (Batali's recipe was huge). And I made some changes to make it my own.

Serves 4

olive oil
7 medium shrimp
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
kosher salt
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 heaping Tbl. paprika
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups long grain white rice
3/4 cup peas
7 littleneck clams
7 mussels
1-2 links chorizo, sliced into discs

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook the shrimp about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set shrimp aside. Add more olive oil if necessary and cook onion about 8 minutes, until soft and starting to brown a bit. Add tomato and stir, then add about 2 tsp salt, saffron, and paprika. Mix together and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then let boil for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir, and make sure the rice is distributed evenly throughout the pan. From this point on you won't stir the paella anymore. Add the peas, then distribute the clams, mussels, cooked shrimp, and chorizo slices evenly throughout the pan. Let cook for 10 minutes, taste for salt (and add more if necessary), then let cook another 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

If I were to make this again tonight, I wouldn't make any changes to the recipe, which should tell you how good it was. It turned out really well, I was very pleased with the result. If you don't like any of the seafood in this recipe, or chorizo, you can easily adjust it. The Batali recipe called for chicken drumsticks (cooked first, then added to the pot along with the clams, etc.). Some recipes call for scallops, calamari, or lobster. Also, I wouldn't cut this recipe in half, I don't think it would cook properly.

The type of rice that's best for paella is a source of debate. Some recipes say medium grain is best, Batali's called for short grain, Curtis Stone's called for long grain, and many recipes call for a specific type of Spanish rice that I couldn't find. I decided on long grain because I thought short grain might make it too risotto-like. But most would agree that if you can find Calasparra or Bomba rice (both are short grain), definitely go with that.

One minor thing I would like to change would be to use a proper paella pan. Any professional chef or Spaniard would say this is a MAJOR component and paella should not even be made without one. But I don't have one and wasn't about to go buy one last night. If I were to buy one, I would order it from La Tienda. Paella pans are thinner than skillets and allow for that crust on the bottom of the paella, which actually has it's own name - socarrat. You know if crust has it's own special name, that it's a big deal. My paella did achieve a little bit of a crust in the skillet, but it's not the same.

Lastly, in case you're not's a picture of saffron threads. They are kind of expensive (a tiny, tiny jar from Trader Joe's set me back $6), but it's a crucial part of the dish. Saffron threads are the stigmas in the center of a crocus - and there's only 3 of them per flower! Probably more info that you wanted to know, but now you can see why they're expensive. The threads are more potent than ground saffron, which can sometimes be diluted with turmeric or other additives.

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