Paella

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The Secret:

This recipe is definitely fusion cooking. We will not claim this is real Spanish paella, but it is definitely our Flemish best effort.

Between ‘90 and ’93 we lived in the area of Mons, a city where there used to be a lot of coalmines. Because of the mines, in the area there are still a lot of Italian and Spanish families. It is during that time that we tasted our first paella.

In an attempt to try this at home we looked up the recipe in a Belgian cookbook and tried this in a normal pan. It was disgusting; it didn’t even come close to what we had tasted during our local night out. We weren’t easily discouraged, so we made a couple more attempts, all without success.

So what was the secret?  Why didn’t we succeed?

As I traveled to Spain and to Portugal in my job as a software trainer, my husband said ‘do not come back without a paella recipe’. A good idea it was, but the people I had to train were mostly men. Each time I popped the question ‘Can you tell me how to make paella?’ Each time i got the same answer ‘I don’t know, my mother makes this for my family’.

Finally a friendly guy said ‘I’ll ask mom’ and a day later he handed me a yellow piece of paper with a handwritten recipe. ‘The secret’ he said ‘is to have equal heat under the pan and to get the balance between stock and ingredients just right’

Okay, this definitely gave a new start to our wrong footed paella project. We went out and bought our first paella pan for 10 persons. Later, as we became better at making it, we bought one for 25 and later one for 50 persons.

I don’t remember how close this original recipe came to how we make our paella today, but what follows is the result of many tries to get it exactly right.

Because paella is often made in larger quantities, telling you how much of each ingredient you need is difficult. How many people would you like to feed? 5, 10, 25, 50, 150? So the approach here will be different than in my other food blogs. I will post a recipe list and the ingredients for 5 persons. If you have other quantities, we developed a spread sheet to help you with the shopping list and calculate the cost.

The Ingredients: for 5 persons

  • 400 g round rice
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage (about 30-40 cm long, 1,5-2 cm diameter)
  • 10 drumsticks (front part of a chicken leg)
  • 12 mussels
  • clams (‘venusschelpen’ for the locals)
  • 300 g squid rings
  • 200 g prawns
  • 5 large shrimps (gambas)
  • 200 g green peas
  • 2 red paprika
  • 0,5 green paprika
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • parsley
  • 5 tsps. curcuma
  • 2 small portions saffron
  • 800 ml chicken bouillon (water with chicken bouillon cubes)
  • salt & pepper

The Work:

Make sure ingredients are cleaned or rinsed. Keep all your ingredients separately. Cut the onions. Remove the seeds of the paprika and cut them into pieces. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in small cubes. Cut the lemon in parts. Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut in 1,5 cm rounds.

Cut the cleaned squid into rings. If you have frozen fish, make sure to defrost them before cooking starts.

Clean the mussels by removing the beard and any dirt on the shells and rinse them several times. Put the clams in a bowl of water with some salt, afterwards rinse them several times. Throw away all clams and mussels which are open.

Put the garlic with some olive oil in a blender and blend until you have paste.

Prepare the stock adding the cubes to the water, adding the parsley, curcuma and saffron. Gently boil this in a separate cooking pot in order to mix all flavors. We like to add some extra salt, pepper and dried chilly to give the stock some punch. When all ingredients have blended together, you can put the stock aside until you need it later.

Now the prep work is done, we can start with the real job.

P1000297P1000300P1000304Heat up the olive oil and bake the chicken legs until they are browned, also add the chorizo. When done, move the chicken and the chorizo to the outer circle of the pan, and turn down the heater for that outer area. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how big the pieces of the meat are. If the chorizo starts to brown too quickly, move them to the outer circle. In this stage you can spoon out some oil and chicken fat out of the middle area, keep it to be used later.

Now you have an open space in the middle. Put the garlic paste and simmer for a while. Do not let it brown! Add the onions and paprika and let these soften gently while stirring from time to time. Move this to the outside, and let the water evaporate until you have only oil.

The following step is to add the rice in the center and let it glaze in the oil. At this point you can add some saved up oil again if necessary.

P1000305Add the peas, tomatoes, the squid and the stock and mix all. Always stir and mix gently in order to keep the ingredients in tact as much as possible. Put all burners equally on the lowest position. From now on don’t stir anymore. Just check from time to time that nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan

Put on top of the paella the clams, the mussels, the gambas and the shrimps and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let it all cook gently P1000307just checking that it does not burn.

After about 10 minutes you are allowed to stir everything once and check again that it does not burn. Reduce the heat if needed by cutting it completely for a while. Cover again with aluminum foil and let it cook gently for another 10 to 20 minutes until the rice is done and the mussels are open and all shrimps are nicely P1000310red.

Serve with a piece of lemon on top.

The Tip:

Anyone can make paella. It is not difficult; just stick to some simple rules.

In all stages of the cooking process it is important to control the heat well. P1000312Ideal is a paella pan heated with a burner with different circular sections. Make sure your pan is a 100% level. Nowadays every smart phone has a level app you can download free of charge to check. The biggest danger is wind, as this will make the heating less controllable. If you need to cook in an open area, wrap some aluminum foil around the pan so the wind cannot play with the flames.

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