Paella a lo Monterey
There are as many recipes for paella as there are Spaniards. Fortunately, none are as good as this one. I call this
version "a lo Monterey" because I was
able to get all the ingredients in a couple of markets in Monterey. I should also call it "a lo
Gastón" since I stole the technique from Carol's cousin Gastón Bobillier. His recipe uses a
flavoring sauce called "chimichurri," an Argentine pesto easily made with garlic and parsley. I should also give credit to
Norberto Jorge for his tips on preparation, which I have adapted.
Paella originated in Valencia, but is also common in neighboring Catalán. The most
common types are paella marinera (the basic paella with seafood, rice, and
vegetables), and paella mixta (basic paella with added rabbit or chicken). Many
recipes are called paella valenciana, but the true valenciana has
snails. Most restaurant paellas are paella mixta, and are made with saffron rice
and vegetables and some combination of mollusks (clams, mussels, abalones, scallops),
shellfish (shrimp, gambas, prawns, crawfish), fish (squid, halibut, hake, sea bass,
snapper, etc.) and some meat such as chicken, chorizo (sausage), pork, or rabbit. The idea
is to use what you can find fresh in the local market. Meat and seafood are not usual
partners, and should be combined with care. Chicken or rabbit won't clash with the shellfish or squid, but a
white-fleshed fish won't go with the chorizo - omit one or the other. If you're not into
surf & turf, you can omit either the shrimp and seafood, or the chicken and chorizo, but
we think they're fine together and our guests enjoy the variety.
Almost all modern
paella recipes use garlic in some fashion, but a Valencian lady once told me that garlic
is for tapas, not paella. Sorry, señora -- this recipe uses garlic -- lots of it.
Whatever recipe you use, the three most important elements are the rice, the
pan, and the azafrán (saffron). Other than that,
do as the Spanish do, and throw in whatever you can find fresh at the market. But don't go crazy,
or the dish will be too crowded or have too many players and not enough stars. And while the rice
is the most important ingredient, it's not the main ingredient. I have eaten lots of paella at
restaurants and at homes where the dish is mostly rice and simply adorned with the other ingredients. This is
an injustice both to the rice and to the other ingredients. Valencians say that the depth of
the cooked rice should only be
un ditet, or up to the first finger joint. The bed of rice is to a paella as a bread crust is to a pizza. On the other hand, you don't want to smother the rice either.
Not just any rice will do.
It must be a short medium-grain rice capable of absorbing lots of liquid and with enough surface
starch to caramelize and produce a socarrat (more on that later). If you can find any of
the medium-grain rices from Spain, such as Bomba or Calasparra, go ahead and splurge. Otherwise Arborio makes an
acceptable substitute (but will not readily produce socarrat due to its creaminess).
As for the pan, you
need a paellera or paella pan. It's a large, flat, shallow pan with sloping
sides. This is because the rice can't be stirred, so it has to rest in a shallow
layer near the heat. You can find paella pans in stainless steel, non-stick coated, enameled, or carbon-steel versions.
The carbon-steel are the traditional and authentic pans.
They require a litle more care (to prevent oxidation) but work best. Also try to get a pan with a lid --
for some weird reason, most paella pans are sold without lids, even though the recipe calls for a covered simmer
at one point, and cooks have to improvise with aluminum foil. A true paella pan will be slightly concave
in the center, to allow the oil to pool in the center for sautéing the sofrito (more on that
later), sort of like a shallow wok.
The pan needs a large round heat source, unless you want to keep rotating the pan over a small burner or two
stovetop burners. Pictured here is cousin Gastón's big 24 " (60cm) paellera sitting on
his extra-large (24") three-ring hornillo (paella burner). Each ring has its own valve. The
outer ring is used only for pans larger than this one, so most get by with just the two-ring hornillo. If you can't find an hornillo for your own backyard
barbecue, a kettle grill will work quite nicely. Get the coals hot and place
the pan right on the grill. Make sure the grill is perfectly level when you add the broth.
Saffron is the third
essential element of paella. Spain doesn't export much saffron any more except as an artesenal
(craft) product, as they can't compete with the saffron industry in India. Saffron is very expensive because its
harvesting cannot be mechanized. It's so
expensive that some cooks either (a) use too little; (b) use a poor substitute (such as Mexican saffron, which is not saffron
but safflower), or (c) use turmeric (also known as Indian saffron, but is a member of the ginger family).
I have never seen anyone use too much saffron, though I have heard that such is possible. The importance of the
saffron is from both the flavor and the color it
imparts to the dish (azafrán is from a Arabic word meaning yellow). Luckily, it is so strong that a little goes a long way, and you won't need more
than a quarter gram for a medium-size paella. (Always buy only saffron threads, never saffron powder which is probably adulterated.)
Scaling will be necessary depending on the size of your paella pan. This recipe assumes a typical 18" (46cm) pan, and calls for 3c Bomba rice. If you have a 15" (38cm) pan,
use 2-1/2 c rice. For each cup of rice, you will need at least 3c of liquid (wine plus broth), or more if you get boil off under higher heat. For the remaining ingredients and other
pan sizes, scale accordingly. I usually prep more than needed just in case, because the overage can be saved for use in other dishes. If you want to scale according to number of guests,
a rule of thumb says one cup of rice will serve three guests. Doing the math, an 18-inch pan will require 3c of rice and 9c of liquid and serve 9 guests (make sure you
have appetizers). Get out your calculator.
Preparation is not difficult, and requires no special technique, but is time-consuming, and requires attention
during the rice stage. You can do all the prep work the day prior, and all of the cooking up to the rice stage
several hours before serving. It's finishing with the rice that makes or ruins this dish.
Have you ever prepared risotto, and had the heat too high or
neglected stirring to the point where the rice on the bottom of the pan turned brown and stuck to the pan? With
risotto, this phenomenon is called "burning the rice" and should be avoided, but with paella, it's
called "caramelization of the starch from the rice", or socarrat, and is not only desired but required.
Making socarrat is one
of the reasons why paella rice is never stirred after liquid is added, while a creamy texture
instead of caramelization is why risotto rice is always stirred.
Sofrito is the name for the aromatics (usually tomatoes, onions, garlic) sautéed just before the rice is added.
This mixture provides the flavor
imbued in the rice as it cooks. Since you will be cooking most of the water out of the aromatics, you can use a food processor
to chop them finely (or a box grater, as Norberto Jorge suggests). I remove the garlic from the pan after sautéing and
make an aioli with it.
For wine, I suggest a good Rioja for red wine drinkers and Albariño for those who prefer white, served in tapa-bar glasses, not stemware.
No accompaniment is needed except perhaps a lightly dressed (vinaigrette, not ranch or honey-mustard) salad. You can serve
pan payés con escalibada, the Spanish version of bruschetta, as an appetizer while waiting for the
paella to finish.