Once, on a New Year's Eve long passed, my husband's father made paella for family and friends. Though it's typically made in a paellera, a very wide, shallow pan with handles, instead my father-in-law used the large, deep steel pot he had available. The uppermost portions of paella were the best; underneath, the rice had become a bit too mushy due to the pan he used. Así es la vida. Despite the slightly mushy rice, there still was the socarrat, the savory caramelized rice crust that forms on the bottom of the pan. I remember the paella was excellent and I ate too much, but I still had room for the flan and turrón that was served for dessert.
In our own home, my husband and I have often made paella for ourselves or guests, holiday or not, in our own 14-inch enameled steel paellera. We don't have the outdoor fire pit that would make it really authentic, but we did purchase a portable propane burner that we'll hopefully use someday. In the meantime, even the electric stove in our rental house, though clearly not my first choice, is still no deterrent for us when we want to eat paella.
For this version of seafood paella, adapted from Spain: A Culinary Road Trip by Mario Batali, I've put a healthier spin on tradition by using brown rice. Since brown rice usually takes twice the time to cook as white rice, I steam the brown rice in seafood stock in a rice cooker until most of the liquid is absorbed, and then add the rice to the paella at the appropriate time. Sometimes as a cheaper option I use turmeric instead of saffron. The one thing you don't want to substitute is the smoked sweet Spanish paprika, a defining flavor for the dish. To make the seafood stock, I make use of the discarded shrimp shells, and have also included an adapted version of the book's recipe below.
It's hard to believe that it's the end of 2011, and that I've posted every week this past year as the musician, who cooks. I've learned much, but I feel like I've only opened the door to the endless creativity that is possible with food, and I find I'm even more excited to try new things than I was a year ago. I'm committed to pursuing what it means to empower people to return to the traditions of real food, and to join together in meals shared in the home and community. I want to support what will make us healthy as a nation. In our own backyard, I'll continue to explore the miracle of one seed, that when planted, can feed the world.
Thanks for joining me on this journey, and blessings to you and yours this new year. See you in 2012 on the musician, who cooks. Prospero año nuevo!
(recipe adapted from Spain: A Culinary Road Trip by Mario Batali, with Gwyneth Paltrow)
For the seafood stock:
2-1/2 quarts of water
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
For the paella:
2 cups short-grain brown rice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 large shrimp, shells removed to use for stock
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup ripe or bottled tomatoes, puréed
1 teasoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric or 1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 pound calamari steaks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart fish stock, made from the leftover shrimp shells
1 pound monkfish or cod
1 pound fresh clams, scrubbed (discard any clams that don't close when tapped)
a paellera (paella pan), at least 14 inches in width and 1-3/4 inches in depth
(Note: On an electric stove with a standard 7-1/2 inch burner, you may need to adjust the cooking times and heat of each step to compensate for the smaller cooking area of the electric burner. What you want to avoid is either overcooking the seafood or burning the rice, or undercooking and ending up with too much liquid at the end).
Remove the shells from the shrimp, and refrigerate shrimp until ready to use. Put the shells from the shrimp into a stockpot with 2-1/2 quarts of water. Add 1/2 roughly chopped onion, two chopped celery stalks, one bay leaf and a several peppercorns to the stockpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes remove from the heat and strain the stock using a fine strainer and set aside.
Put the 2 cups of brown rice and 1 quart of the seafood stock into a rice cooker and steam until most of the stock is consumed. Remove container from the cooker and remove the lid to let the steam escape so rice doesn't get soggy.
Pour 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil into a paella pan and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp and sauté briefly, about a minute on each side, then remove and set aside. Add the onion to the pan and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook 2 minutes more. Mix together the salt, turmeric (or saffron), smoked Spanish paprika in a little dish to blend and stir into the pan with the onions and tomatoes. Add the calamari and cook until it starts to become a little firmer. Pour in the seafood stock, let it come to a boil, and let it cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the brown rice, spreading it evenly over the entire pan. If using monkfish, add it, along with the clams, dropping them evenly over the pan and pushing them down into the rice. If using cod, wait to add it with the shrimp. Let the stock come to a boil again and cook but do not stir for 10 minutes. Adjust the taste for salt, add the shrimp (and cod, if using), placing evenly over the pan and pushing them down into the rice. Let cook, still not stirring, until most of the stock has been absorbed, clams have opened, and fish is cooked. Adjust heat if needed; when done cooking there should be a nicely browned, caramelized crust on the bottom of the paella pan, but it should not be heavily charred or blackened. Remove pan from the heat and let stand until the liquid has completely absorbed, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6 people