Paella Primer

more-food-011Whenever I entertain, I like for there to be some sort of theme to the evening.   I’m not talking about decorations or costumes (definitely not my cup of tea), but rather some sort of food theme.  Once I did an entire meal featuring lemons;  lemon drop martinis, pasta with lemon cream sauce, lemon biscotti.  I also like ethnic themes, and since I’d just finished teaching a number of classes at my Connecticut cooking school on  tapas, I was in Spanish-mode.  A paella party it would be!  However, it had been years since I’d made paella, so I set out to do a little research.

I learned quite a bit about paella, one of  the most recognizable Spanish dishes.  The name “paella” (pie-ay-ya) is actually the Spanish word for “pan”, more specifically the wide, shallow pan used for this unique one-pot meal.  A special short-grained rice is cooked with  a combination of ingredients which vary by region.  Seafood–mainly shrimp and mussels– is the most common ingredient in paella, however sausage (usually chorizo), chicken, vegetables are also typical.

I quickly discovered that the traditional Valencia rice used in paella it is not widely available.  After searching in about five stores (both supermarkets and specialty markets), I finally found it in a regular grocery store a few towns over from where I live.  If you cannot find it, Italian Arborio rice used for risotto is a good substitute.  Do not use long grain rice, as it is less starchy and will not acheive the same “creaminess” important in good paella.

It is not necessary to rush out and by a paella pan either.  I used my large, shallow enamelled cast-iron pan (pictured) which easily handled paella for six.  You could also use any large, heavy, flat-bottomed pan (like a chicken fryer) or a dutch oven to create this dish.  However, if you are using a dutch oven I suspect it will take a few additional minutes for the rice to fully absorb the broth since it is a deeper pan. 

No matter what ingredients you choose for your paella (I like to use a little of everything), the key to authenticity is the “socorat”.  Socorat is the crunchy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan that forms during the last stage of cooking.  Resist the urge to stir or you’ll spoil the socorat! 

I’m still perfecting my own paella recipe for my party, so I’ve included links to some of the recipes from which I’m drawing my inspiration.   Paella is really not as intimidating as it sounds— give it a try!  Be sure to serve it with my Simple Sangria!

The Ultimate Paella

Barefoot Contessa Lobster Paella

Cooks Illustrated Paella

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

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