Monday, February 23, 2009

Diva Dinner Dates Pt. 2: The Domestic Diva's Perfect Paella

Moving on to the main course, for my Diva Dinner Date, I decided to make a seafood paella. Paella is a Spanish rice dish that's like a risotto that you don't stir. In other words, it's a base into which you can put a myriad of proteins and ingredients. Heck, you could even make a vegan version! Once you master the basic recipe, you can make tons of variations on the theme, one reason why it's awesome to have in your cooking arsenal. Another reason, is that's it's a stunning dish to behold, layered with flavors and ingredients, and ideal when served family style so everyone can help themselves!

Paella owes its distinctive flavor and color to two key ingredients. The first, is saffron, a delicate spice made from the stigma of special saffron flowers. Pound for pound, it's the world's most expensive spice, but a little goes a long way. When you buy it, you'll see that it comes in a tiny portion. The second, is pimenton, a smoked paprika. When you pick this spice up, take a good whiff. The aroma is amazing!

The next key to a great paella is the rice. You need a starchy, creamy short grain rice, such as La Bamba, or Arborio (the rice also used in risotto). I also highly recommend using homemade chicken stock for that extra humph (see DD's Crock Pot Chicken Stock Recipe), but in a pinch, store bought will work. Thirdly, you need the right pan! You can buy specially designed paella pans anywhere from Bed, Bath and Beyond to Williams Sonoma. You can find inexpensive ones, but in working with them, I've found they don't heat very evenly. I prefer to use my All-Clad Braising Pan (see DD's Amazon Store). It pulls double duty for paellas, being the same shape as a traditional paella pan. A must have if you ask me!

Once you're all set with your basic paella ingredients, you can choose your proteins. For my paella, I chose a healthy chicken sausage instead of traditional chorizo. Then, for my seafood, I decided to use mussels and clams, my favorites! They look amazing spread around the dish, and when they open up, it's like a fab magic trick. Are you read to get cooking?!

Domestic Diva's Seafood Paella

2 cups Bomba or other short grain white rice

4 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock (see DD's recipe)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion

1 bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup pureed canned tomatoes

2 tbsp pimenton (smoked paprika)
1 cup frozen peas
2 chicken sausages
1 tsp saffron threads

3/4 lb clams
3/4 lb mussels
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp parsley
salt and pepper


Warm the pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and allow to warm. Then add the onions and peppers and saute until the onion is translucent (about 8 min).

Add the sausage and cook for another few minutes.

Add the tomato puree and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the saffron and pimenton and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring until mixed. Add the chicken stock, stirring to mix it in, and bring it to a boil (about 5 minutes).

Add the rice and peas and stir well to combine. Return to a boil and resist the urge to stir after this (Paella should develop a crust on the bottom, so don't be alarmed!). After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer. Add the mussels and clams, spreading them around the top of the dish.

Cook for approximately 3o minutes, or until the stock is absorbed, the rice is cooked and the mussels and clams have all opened. Top with the lemon juice and chopped parsley, and serve family style for a lovely dinner!

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