Impromtu Paella...Easier and much cheaper than we are led to believe

Until now, this blog hasn't served as a resource for cooking, but rather celebrating the people who are professionals, and my dining experiences at those establishments. I do not claim to be a professional, in anything really, however, I'd like to present to you "And now for something completely different." Today, I decided to make paella.  Ask any foreigner what Spain is about, and they'll likely answer, "paella, toros, beaches and gazpacho", and I suppose that's why I've been inclined to avoid it, because I thought it portrayed the false Spain. Although in my two years living here, I've grown to see that it is actually a celebrated dish for locals and the frequency with which it is made in homes around Spain is quite high (generally on Sunday afternoons to be shared with the whole family). Moreover, it isn't only in Valencia where you'll find it-  mountains, lakes, dry plains, coastline, you name it, there is a paella recipe that exists for almost every province, and that is because more than anything paella is universally and simply a rice dish.

Two important facts, I wanted to make it without colorant and use whole wheat rice.  I found a great brand from Malaga, Triselecta, that sells an easy to use paella spice packet, consisting of crushed garlic, paprika, saffron extract, bay leaves, pepper, and cloves. Now you may ask yourself, but what's the big deal, shouldn't all paellas be natural? Well yes, but since it is seen as the national dish, thousands of tons of paella are made and consumed daily. The restaurants catering to tourists, or simply looking to cut back on their bill, use coloring in the place of saffron, which would naturally leave the rice that yellow-gold color.

Perhaps my biggest fault at being a home taught cook is that I generally cook by eye. Which turns out not to be a weakness when cooking paella because you can substitute just about anything and there is no magic temperature point when it is "done", nor a particular measurement of salt.  I was out of meat, had no seafood and didn't want to go back to store, so I opted for a vegetable paella with what I had in the house: canned artichokes, canned roasted red peppers, canned chick peas, and mushrooms. Now I'm not trying to sound like Sandra Lee or Rachel Ray here, but I wanted to prove that paella really can be simple and not so intimidating. As I mentioned, I also went for a healthier rice variety, brown rice, as opposed to the standard bomba rice from Valencia's wetlands. Bomba rice is to paella what aborio rice is to Italian risotto, so keep in mind by choosing this you are altering the traditional practice, but no pasa nada.  For this change however, I cooked the brown rice slightly (12 min) before starting to make the paella, so that it would a) cook faster and b) limit the possibilities of burning the bottom of the rice, since the vegetables would be finished light-years ahead of the rice.

Here's what I did. I found a large, shallow enough pan (again, substituting from the traditional paellera), and sauteed a sofrito, an onion and garlic base (tomatoes, carrots or finely chopped celery if you have them- again up to you!), then added my half-way cooked rice to the pan, stirred, added enough water to cover the rice, and my magical mystery tour of spices, stirred again and left to settle and cook. The first 8-10 minutes were on a higher heat, and the last 7-10 on a lower setting. They key is not to move the rice around, as well as to not burn the rice too much once it's in it's happy place. This is probably the trickiest part, so don't be discouraged if you have some charcoal at the bottom, it happens to everyone, and some people like that taste- ask a Persian about tadik.

Finally, I turned off the heat and covered the paella for around 5 minutes. This captures the steam and makes the rice more flexible for serving.  Here's the final product, and it wasn't half bad!

For those recipe freaks out there (no harm meant), help yourself to this suggestion that came with the Triselecta spice package.

Traditional Paella
- 400gr. of rice
- 3/4 liter of water or broth
- 4 soup spoons of olive oil
- 3 red or green peppers
- 1 grated tomato
- 3/4 kg. of chicken pieces
- 1 package (3gr.) of paella spices. If this isn't available, I'm sure you could eyeball a few shakes of ground garlic, clove, paprika, pepper, etc.
- salt (per your taste)
- saffron (optional)

1. Wash and slice the peppers. Place them into a pan with the chicken, as well as the olive oil and tomato.
2. Fry lightly until the peppers are no longer hard.
3. Add the rice and lightly fry again until it is well mixed with the oil and tomato base.
4. Incorporate the spices and add the water or broth.
5. Boil on high heat for 10 minutes and another 10 minutes at a lower temperature.
6. Remove from the heat and cover with a dish cloth for 5 minutes, so that the paella "sweats".
7. Adorn with a few pieces of saffron.

*Remember you can customize this to your liking, allergies, crushes, etc. Try rabbit, rock fish, green beans, mussels, zucchini, pumpkin...anything goes.


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