Last week I hostessed a Girls' Night In and lovingly prepared a Spanish feast for my best NYC girlfriends. I roasted Marcona almonds, had lovely olives, make a classic Spanish tortilla and had a gorgeous platter of Serrano Ham, Ahumado di Pria and Quince paste (Membrillo). Also, I'd been researching paella all summer and wanted to make it for a lovely crowd rather than just two of us. My friends are awesomely fantastic, and I wanted to make sure the dish was worthy of them. Everyone was happy with the food and I was pretty pleased too. Family style, eating with both hands and utensils, delicious flavors and color/texture combination. I'd put this up for any party with those one loves best! Here's my "Chicken and Seafood Paella".
Paella is intended to be cooked over an open flame or wood fire with a grill on top so the whole huge pan cooks evenly. It's a little trickier doing it indoors on a regular gas burner and you have to rotate the pan around the warmest spots every 15 minutes or so. Nevertheless, we all ate it and it was the perfect meal to share in our convivial atmosphere. Also, there is no "traditional" Paella. There are traditional paella from specific regions in Spain. Some of those truly authentic recipes are not easy to duplicate outside the locale of their origin. So for you purists, I know this is a hybrid. I tried to use authentic ideas and techniques but have mixed some of the ingredients. Often, seafood and meat are never mixed and I have seen loads of "Paella is not surf & turf" arguments. Alas, I used what I love best in my paella, what I really throw my culinary gusto behind. So, no rabbit and yes, I mixed chicken and chorizo and seafood and no beans or peas (primarily due to dear friend's allergy). So, here's my own version, closest to a "Paella Mixta" just the way my friends and I like it! And thanks to my fantastic local store in SoHo for providing many of these ingredients!
5 T. extra virgin Spanish olive oil
1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 large non-spicy Chorizo, chopped
1 whole extra large vine-ripened tomato, diced
2 cups Bomba Cebolla rice (use short-grained rice always)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 tsp. saffron
about 6-8 cups of your best homemade chicken stock
1/2 tsp. smoked sweet Spanish paprika (Pimenton)
20 fresh mussels
18 fresh clams (Littleneck variety for me)
18 fresh prawns, peeled and de-veinedsalt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges for garnish
1. Prep all the ingredients first, chop the vegetables, cut the meat and scrub the mussels and clams. Store the shellfish in the fridge on ice. Rinse and dry the shrimp.
2. Place the paella pan or very large, flat and wide skillet over your largest burner. Turn on medium-high heat and add the olive oil to the bottom, generously coating the bottom's surface. When the oil is hot add the onion and garlic and saute for a couple minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Next add the chicken and cook until it's white on all sides. Add the chorizo and peppers and stir to mix and get everything cooking. Push everything to the edges and put the tomato in the middle and saute another 1-2 minutes.
3. Make space in the middle again and add the rice, toast it gently like you would for risotto for about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir to incorporate. Let the alcohol evaporate for two minutes and then add half the stock, the saffron and paprika. Stir everything together well, reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer and let it cook for about 20 minutes.
4. Taste for seasoning and add some salt and pepper. Add the mussels and clams, nestling them at even intervals around the pan. Add another cup or two of stock. Make sure that you press the shellfish down in toward the bottom, so the simmering liquid is over the top of the shells at least halfway. Now leave the dish alone for at least 40 minutes, do not stir. If you stir too much, it will get gummy. Check on the pan every 10-15 minutes, rotating so that it all cooks evenly and to make sure all the shellfish get equal flame-time. The rice will and should look very wet during the cooking process. If it begins to look dry before 45 minutes have elapsed, add more stock.
5. Close to the 40-45 minute mark, taste a bit of the rice from different areas in the pan to see if it is done and check for seasoning. The rice should be soft but still have just the slightest bite to it, like al dente pasta and most of the liquid should be absorbed in the rice. Make sure all the mussels and clams are beginning to open. Lastly, add the shrimp and any more stock or seasoning to finish cooking the rice. If a little begins to stick to the bottom, that's great, it's actually desired to have a little crispy crunch on the bottom. You just need to go slowly enough to make sure all the rice itself gets cooked properly (al dente) and the shellfish all open.6. Once cooked, remove the paella from the heat, cover it to let it rest for about 5 minutes. Remove any mussels or clams that didn't open. Slice some lemon wedges and garnish. Serve family style on the table using a trivet or hot-pad underneath. Enjoy!