As you will hear so frequently in culinary circles, there are so very many ways to cook paella and so many lovely ingredients to include. I love the subtle juxtaposition of flavors this recipe yields, but by all means, feel free to experiment with your favorite ingredients. If you become a paella fan, then do try it cooked outdoors over a grill or fire. It truly is the way to savor the tradition!
1/2 pound prawns, peeled and shells reserved
2 cups water
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups flavorful chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
3/4 pound boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into julienne strips
12-16 green beans or snap peas, stems removed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, chopped finely (you may peel it if you wish…see note)
2 cups medium grain rice
1/2 pound albacore tuna, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 pound mussels or clams, scrubbed (optional)
Lemon and parsley for garnish
In a medium saucepan, combine the shrimp shells with the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and strain the liquid, discarding the shells. Place the liquid back in the pot. Add the saffron and the chicken broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large sauté pan or paella pan (about 14 inches works well for this recipe) heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken for about 4-5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan.
Add the red pepper and the beans or peas and cook until the pepper is tender and the peas are bright green. Remove these from the pan.
Add a little extra oil if needed to the pan and cook the onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture begins to caramelize (about 15-20 minutes). This is your "sofrito".
You may do all of these steps up to several hours prior to finishing the paella. About 45 minutes before you are ready to dine:
Bring the shrimp and chicken stock to a boil.
Place the paella pan over medium heat, with the sofrito still in the pan. Add the rice and stir it around for a minute or two to toast the grains a bit. Depending on the size of your paella pan, you may use one or two burners for the cooking process. (Of course feel free to do this step over your outdoor barbecue or even a smoldering bed of campfire coals!)
Carefully add the simmering stock to the pan. Shake the pan to distribute the rice and the stock. Place the chicken, prawns, tuna, peppers and beans or peas in a decorative fashion over the rice, pushing them down into the stock. Tuck the mussels or clams into the stock. Simmer the paella, moving and spinning it in various positions over the flame to cook it evenly, for about 20 minutes or until the rice is just barely "al dente". Resist the temptation to stir! If you are uncomfortable with cooking the paella all the way on top of the stove you may finish it in the oven. When the rice begins to expand and come to the surface of the liquid, place the pan in a 425 degree oven for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking time. Some chefs choose to put foil on top to trap some of the steam, but I find that quite unromantic! At any rate, whichever method you choose, one of the true signs of a perfect paella is the golden crust that forms on the bottom, called the "socarrat". The best way to achieve this is to turn the heat up just a bit towards the end of the cooking time (or place your oven finished paella back on the stove for a moment) until you hear the rice crackle. Keep your nose sharply tuned. You want it to smell toasty and golden but not burned.
When the paella is cooked, remove it from the heat, cover it with a towel and let it rest for 5 or so minutes to give the rice a last moment to cook. Serve your masterpiece at table accompanied with lemons, parsley and alioli sauce.
Note: How to peel a tomato:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Set up a bowl with ice water. Cut a small cross in the bottom of the tomato and place it in the boiling water. The riper the tomato, the less time this will take. Usually about 10 seconds should suffice. Remove the tomato from the boiling water and place it immediately into the ice water. Then with a small paring knife, starting at the cross in the bottom, peel the skin away.
Spanish Alioli Sauce
Traditional alioli sauce was not made with the addition of an egg as is its French cousin: aioli. (Note the subtle spelling difference.) It was simply garlic and olive oil that was emulsified in a mortar and pestle. Sometimes, bread crumbs were added to help bind the sauce. Today, you will find this version, which is creamier, offered in many regions around Spain.
4-6 cloves garlic
2 coddled egg yolks (see note)
Salt to taste
1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
Splash of lemon juice (optional)
Combine the garlic, egg yolks and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend to puree the garlic. With the machine running, pour the oil in a thin stream through the feed tube until the sauce is the consistency of thin mayonnaise. Season with lemon if desired.
Note: to coddle an egg, place it in barely simmering water for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. (no longer) This will bring the egg to a safe temperature. Remove it and immediately crack it into a bowl. The white may turn a bit translucent, but it will still serve as a perfect base for emulsion. To use only the yolks, remove the yolk from the white by using the sharp edge of one of the halved egg shells as a scoop