Paella de Mariscos (Seafood Paella)
Paella is an iconic, quintessential Spanish entrée that cooks worldwide have always tried to perfect. Like most dishes we now enjoy in gourmet restaurants, the origin of Paella is quite humble. Literally, the word "Paella" is not the food itself but the pan used to prepare the meal in. Valencia is the home of paella -- one of the most significant rice producing area in Spain. It was where farm laborers after a hard day's toil in the rice paddies would gather and put together whatever they could find to prepare food for themselves; a subsistence level of pooling in ingredients they could naturally seek: rice, snails, tomatoes, onions...a rabbit or a duck hunted nearby. A handmade, wide pan big enough for everyone called the "paellera" was placed over a wood fire where they would drop in all the edible stuff they had collectively harvested to make a meal -- a catch all cuisine, so to say. They would converge around this paellera, trade tales while eating straight from the pan with each of their own wooden spoons, making this activity the ultimate social grub.
Eventually, this dish found it's way in the coastal areas where different ingredients brought by the sea were introduced: shrimp, mussels, clams, crabs, squid, etc. -- the seafood paella we know now. Come the 19th century, when countryside trips were popular with affluent Valencians, their discovery of this plebeian fare paved the introduction of lavish ingredients like chicken (which was expensive then), langoustines, chorizo, and saffron. Nowadays, the tradition of eating the Paella as a social event is carried on, most popular in family gatherings and holidays.
This is Paella. It's not that intimidating challenge in the kitchen only Chefs can pull off. It is a modest rice dish where you gather anything you have in your pantry, put it together, and enjoy with your love ones. This is what I found tonight in my fridge, and this is my Paella, and I enjoyed cooking it with whiskey. Salud!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, As Needed
1 Tbsp. Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp. Annatto (poor man's saffron)
1 bulb Garlic (Thinly sliced)
1 Onion (Thinly sliced)
1 Large Can Tomato (Canned or fresh--diced)
3 pcs Chorizo (sliced)
4 to 6 pcs Anchovies (salt cured)
2 Red Pimento Peppers (Preferably Roasted)
2 Sweet Peppers (Chopped thinly-divided portions for cooking & garnish)
1 cup Peas
1 cup Manzanilla Olives in Olive oil
2 Limes or Lemons (1 for the juice, 1 sliced in wedges for garnish)
Seafood stock, As Needed
1 shot Rye Whiskey for its spice notes
2 cups Medium Grained rRce (I used Calaspara)
1 lb. Mussels
1/2 lb. Shrimp -- Peeled & Deveined
1/2 lb. Scallops -- seared
Handful Fresh Cilantro (you may substitute parsley) -- roughly chopped
Handful Fresh Oregano -- roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. Lime or Lemon zest
Salt & freshly ground Pepper, As Needed
Another variation with squid
In a mixing bowl, season the shelled & deveined shrimp with salt & pepper, set aside.
Drizzle about 2 to 3 tbsp. of olive oil in the paellera on medium heat, sauté the chorizo to render the fat. Skim the chorizo out when done and set aside.
Sauté the anchovies in the rendered chorizo oil until the fish flakes & melts. Stir in the annatto & paprika into the oil.
Drop in the garlic and sauté until golden brown. Add in the onions & rye whiskey -- continue to cook until it reaches the caramelization stage. Add in the tomatoes & pimento peppers (this mixture is your sofrito). Stir in the rice & green peas to blend homogenously with the sofrito.
Gradually add seafood stock just enough to cover the rice (adding more as needed). After about 30 minutes or halfway thru the process of cooking the rice, arrange the shrimp & mussels in the Paella. Allow this to simmer for 15 min more or until the rice & shrimp is fully cook. Taste the rice and sprinkle salt if needed.
Put off the heat and arrange the chorizo, olives, & seared scallops in the Paella. Squeeze lime/lemon on the shrimp & sprinkle all over with freshly cracked pepper.
Toss the oregano, zest, & cilantro together and sprinkle all over the dish. Garnish with sweet peppers & lime wedges & serve hot.
* Traditionally, the seafood & chorizo is added in after the rice and before the stock is introduced, but I found this results into a one note seafood flavor as all the ingredients get "cooked out" in the stock. By adding them at the last stage allows each protein to retain its own unique flavor, providing layers of delicious notes in every bite.
* Seared scallops have a delicate flavor that gets lost when added too early in the cooking process. This is why it's best seared perfectly ahead but added last.
* Another version of Paella Mariscos with shrimp & squid.
Simmering Paella takes time, best spent sipping as I was working up an appetite for dinner.
I love how its spice and citrusy notes offered the perfect continuity to this feast.
Barrel Proof New Riff Rye