26 Feb Recipe: Paella
One of these days I’ll learn how to take notes, shoot pictures and eat, all at once. This sort of multi-tasking would have come in very handy last week when I attended a paella class at Pimenton in Toronto. Greeted by a table full of tapas, fellow bloggers chopping vegetables and a warm and welcoming Chef José Arato, my anxiety over arriving late due to the rush hour drive melted. It took at couple of Tortilla & Chorizo Tarts to calm me down, but they did the trick.
Until the class, most of my knowledge about paella came from Posh Nosh, a British cooking show spoof. Unlike the TV version, Chef José’s paella was cooked on the stove top — not in the ancestral Aga — and uses bomba rice, not Italian arborio. Who knew you can’t trust the BBC for cooking advice?
To feed the blogging hoard, Chef José made the dish in three pans. He assured us paella is not a precise dish. There’s a lot of eyeballing involved. And true to his word, he measured nothing. To begin, he poured the oil in the centre of the pan explaining that he stops when it’s 2 inches from the edge. He added ladles of various broths throughout the process, depending on how much it boiled down.
If paella is an art, it’s a forgiving one. Chef José assured us that every paella dish tasted slightly different from the next. But the technique remains the same. Layers of flavours cooked into rice.
Even the rice itself wasn’t measured. Chef José just poured it straight from the bag into the paella pan. The trick? Pour in a single line from back to front.
The rice itself is key. True paella is made with bomba rice. Not basmati, or arborio or jasmine or Uncle Ben’s. This specialty rice absorbs three times its volume in water (compared to regular long grain rice which absorbs twice as much water and basmati which absorbs a mere one and a half times.) While it’s short and fat like the rice used in risotto, bomba isn’t starchy, is hard to over-cook and delivers different results. Arborio rice will produce a creamier paella and the grains won’t separate like it should in the traditional dish.
Where do you get bomba? At Pimenton’s. Chef José says it’s the only place in Toronto that sells this Spanish rice. And based on the way he cradled the bag, I believe him.
Between taking photos*, trying not to step on other people’s toes and nibbling on tapas, I managed to jot down these handy tips.
- Use a paella pan. Its wide mouth and flat bottom are essential to the cooking. Chef José sells paella pans at Pimenton. The smallest size he sells is 14-inches, which serves between 4 and 6 people. As Chef José says, there’s no use making any less.
- Chef José prefers to use chicken thighs for their meaty flavour and fat content, but breasts are fine, too.
- Unpeeled shrimp provides better flavour, but José cautions, “Think about your guests.” You might want to remove the shell to make it easier for them to east.
- Chef José makes his own chicken stock for paella with nothing but water and chicken bones. No mire poix, no salt. Just chicken bones and water. This way the stock provides heft and flavour, but doesn’t interfere with the other flavours being layered into the dish.
- He doesn’t stir the dish. Instead, he grips the handle and gently but firmly rotates it clockwise and counter clockwise to swirl the rice into the liquid.
- Paella is all about eye balling. When the liquid boils down, add more. Rice is poured, not measured.
- When it comes to bomba rice, José’s rule of thumb is that 1 kg will feed 10 people. If you’re nervous about eyeballing the rice, it’s
- better to add less rice than more.
Served right from the pan it was cooked in, the paella was finished at the table. Peas, roasted red pepper slivers, shrimp, mussels and lemon wedges turned the monochromatic saffron yellow dish into a colourful main.
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 tbsp parsley, chopped coarsely
- 1 good pinch saffron, infused
- 1 chicken cut into pieces, or 4 boneless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
- 2 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
- 16 clams, very small, smoked to remove sand
- 12 - 16 shrimp in their shell
- Spanish olive oil (as needed)
- 1 onion, medium, finely chopped
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- ½ cup Sofrito*
- 3 cups Bomba rice
- 6½ cups chicken or fish broth, hot
- 1 tbsp salt, or as needed
- ½ cup green beans
- ½ cup frozen peas
- ½ lemon
- 2 sweet roasted red peppers
- 2 dozen mussels, steamed
- lemon wedges
- If your saffron is dry, bring ½ cup of stock to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add saffron and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside.
- In a mortar and pestle or small food processor, mash the garlic, parsley and some coarse salt to a paste. Add the dried saffron and set aside.
- Heat 6 tbsp oil in a paella pan and add the shrimp. Cook briefly and set shrimp aside.
- Add the chicken and cook briefly, then add the clams and squid. Remove these from the paella pan.
- Add more oil if necessary, then add onions, pepper and cook until soft, but not brown, then add the sofrito and the garlic mixture.
- Add enough stock to come up to the rivets of the paella pan. Bring the stock to a boil. Squeeze in the lemon and season with salt.
- Add the rice in one line (from back to front) and then stir gently to mix it into the stock. Allow the dish to boil hard for 8 minutes.
- Add the green beans and peas. Nestle the shrimp on top. Do not stir or you will release the starch into the rice.
- Continue cooking at a rolling boil for 2-3 minutes or until the rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to cook the rice. Reduce the heat to low, place the mussels on top of the rice and arrange strips of roasted peppers on top of the paella. If the paella pan's bottom doesn't fit properly on the stove burner, continue cooking in a pre-heated 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven while the rice looks a bit wet.
- Cover with foil and let paella rest for 5 minutes.
- Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley and serve in the paella pan.
• olive oil • 1 onion chopped • 1 clove garlic, minced • 1 28-oz tin crushed tomatoes • 2 tbsp sugar • 1 tsp salt
In a saucepan, heat olive oil, onion and garlic. Sauteé for 6 minutes until fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until some of the liquid has evaporated. Purée with an immersion blender. This recipe freezes well.
We dined on paella and grilled vegetable salad. Each paella pan did taste slightly different from the next, but the differences were subtle.
Nearly bursting from the tapas, salad, paella and sangria, I took the gluten-free almond cake home with me and enjoyed it for breakfast. As for the homemade ice cream drizzled in olive oil? Somehow, I managed to eat all that was put in front of me. But in my defence, it would have melted on the drive home.
*For more photos taken during the Pimenton paella class, visit my Tumblr. I went a bit snap-happy and can’t post them all here.