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Thursday, May 10, 2018 12:01 am

Irreverent paella

I was traveling recently and needed to stop for a dinner break while en route. I found an attractive looking restaurant that specialized in “fusion” cuisine. I ordered a grilled chicken Banh Mi and Korean Kalbi baby back ribs. Though both dishes were tasty, the Banh Mi was merely a grilled chicken sandwich with carrot and cabbage coleslaw and sriracha mayonnaise, possessing none of the characteristics or attributes of the iconic Vietnamese sandwich. The ribs were glazed with a barbeque sauce made with Korean pepper paste but otherwise bore no resemblance to the traditional Korean Kalbi barbeque. I would have been happier if the menu had listed the dishes as simply a chicken sandwich and BBQ ribs, rather then trying to portray them as something they weren’t.

Paella, my practice round

A society’s culture is expressed through its food traditions – often the assimilation of one culture’s cuisine by another culture can spark nationalistic indignation. This cultural pride was dramatically demonstrated by the impassioned responses to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s recipe for “My favourite paella.” When Chef Oliver’s website published his recipe for the classic Spanish rice dish paella that included chicken, chorizo and prawns, he was barraged with angry hate mail. The outcries of indignation included: “Jamie, please read more about paellas before calling anything paella. This recipe is rice with things. Paella never has chorizo. Please go to the corner and think about this abomination.” “I hate it when people do not define paella correctly. It’s as if they want to see the whole world burn!” “Chorizo in paella??? This is a massive no-no. Someone needs to stop this, it is so heartbreaking as a Spaniard to see how badly Spanish food is represented in your country.” “The abuses committed in the name of Paella Valenciana are excessive – an absolute scandal.”

I find this controversy most amusing because Spain’s national dish has diverse multicultural origins. Paella is a rice dish that dates back to the mid-19th century from a region on the east coast of Spain near the city of Valencia. The Romans had introduced irrigation to the area and the conquering Moors had begun growing rice in the area 1,200 years before. The workers in the area’s fruit orchards would cook rice over a wood fire. They seasoned the rice with saffron, which had been introduced by Arab spice traders. Because good slow-burning firewood was scarce in this unforested region of Spain, the orchard workers would cook over vines and branches pruned from the orange trees. These prunings created intense heat. If the rice were to have been cooked in a round-bottomed pot, like the type used for jambalaya in the American South, the rice on the bottom would be scorched before the rice on top was ready. So the orchard workers used a wide, flat-bottomed shallow pan called a paellera, which had been introduced by the Romans.

The rice grown in the region defined the character of the dish. The short-grained variety known as Bomba swells to seven times its dry size as it absorbs the flavors of the stock without getting mushy.

As the dish evolved in modern times, a culture and ritual developed around it. Traditional paella became a picnic dish cooked outdoors on Sundays by men while the women were away at church. Served communally and eaten directly out of the pan, diners started at the perimeter and worked toward the center, scooping up pieces of chewy caramelized rice sticking to the bottom of the pan called the socarrat.

Spain’s national dish dates to the mid-19th century.

with chicken, chorizo, shrimp and shellfish

• ½ cup uncooked Bomba Rice per person 
• 1 cup chicken stock per person
• 5 threads saffron per person dissolved in a little white wine
• 4 tablespoons or more olive oil, to cover bottom of pan
• 1 piece of chicken, such as a thigh, per person
• ½ to 1 soft chorizo, such as Bilbao or Palacios, per person
• ½ teaspoon Spanish sweet pimenton (paprika) per person
• 1 clove garlic per person, minced
• ¼ cup chopped onion per person
• ⅛ cup grated tomato (cut in half, grate and discard the skin) per person
• 2 shrimps per person
• 2-4 mussels per person
• red piquillo peppers cut in strips (or substitute jarred roasted red peppers)
• frozen artichoke hearts or peas
• cooked cannellini beans
• lemon wedges for garnish
• salt to taste

Heat stock in a separate stockpot.

Crush saffron and add it to stock or a little bit of white wine.

Heat paella pan (or other shallow fat-bottomed pan) over medium heat. This can be done on a stovetop or in a kettle grill.

Add olive oil and fry chicken until it begins to brown.

Next, add garlic and onions and sauté until translucent.

Add chorizo and cook until heated.

Add the rice, stirring until well coated with oil.

Add the paprika and grated tomato. Stir while cooking for a few minutes.

Add saffron-flavored wine and hot stock. Bring to a boil while scraping the bottom of pan.

Now the rice should be level and you will not need to stir from this point on. Adjust heat to maintain a nice simmer.

When the rice has absorbed a good amount of liquid but still has a soupy appearance, add the mussels or clams.

Once the rice is cooked, add the shrimp or prawns, tucking them down into the rice. Then add the piquillo peppers, artichoke hearts, green beans, beans and peas. During this time, the rice should be caramelizing on the bottom of the pan or creating what is called the socarrat. It will make a faint crackling sound and smell toasty sweet but not burnt. Set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, garnish with lemon wedges and serve. 

Recipe adapted from spanishtable.com

Peter Glatz and Bertha Bus will defy tradition by preparing paella with chorizo for the Corkscrew’s Spanish dinner on Sunday, May 20, at 5:15 pm. Call 698-1112 for information.

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