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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Paella At Home, At Last

I finally got around to using one of my most prized possessions, the paella pan with the beautiful red handles I got for Christmas last year, and I'm smitten.

I probably avoided making it because of my streak of unsuccessful paella ventures over the past, oh, decade-plus, that resulted in one too many porridge-like things, under-seasoned things and unevenly cooked things. I won't even call those "errors" paella. Back then, I could at least argue that I didn't have the right equipment. No longer. And it came out well, if I may say so myself. Here are some pointers that I took away.

First, there was the issue of deciding what type of paella to make (the pan gift came with a paella cookbook with back-to-back paella recipes -- gracias, mj!). After a not-so-impressive black squid ink paella I attempted to make during my latest trip to Korea, I opted to veer away from seafood.

As I narrowed down the choices canceling out fish and shellfish, I decided -- chicken. I went for one that features chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, crimini mushrooms and onions. I used organic chicken breast meat from a Japanese market (Nijiya) that I found to be a lot more tender and juicier than those found at other mainstream stores. The breast meat also looked fresher with a brighter pink hue to its color and didn't look as chunky as if they'd been injected with hormones. I also liked the slightly sweet flavor from the sherry that soaked the sun-dried tomatoes and also added into the rice as part of the liquid besides chicken stock to cook it.

The saffron, which also came with the gift (apparently one that keeps on giving!), was excellent quality stuff. I'd been a bit cheap and had used ones that aren't as strongly flavored in Persian markets. The good stuff certainly helped to impart that signature paella flavor. I also improvised a bit, throwing in peas and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper for a bit of kick. The recipe called for dried basil but why use dried when I have fresh? So I sprinkled the finished product with slivers of basil that added a very nice dimension of aroma and flavor.

The only thing I will say is that because my pan is for a party of six, it was larger in diameter than my stove's heating area. So I had issues around evenness in cooking and had to stir the rice around to switch out uncooked kernels on the edges with cooked ones in the middle. And I moved the pan around the heat area to finish off the cooking at the end.

The recipe, you ask? It's easy. I'm guessing this isn't the most typical paella but here it is. I'm not going to specify amounts because making paella isn't a precise science at all. Just make sure it cooks evenly! Sautee minced garlic and one chopped onion in olive oil. Chop chicken breasts and sautee them until browned. Slice sun-dried tomatoes and soak in sherry. Chop the mushrooms, jalapeno (for heat lovers) and sautee with sun-dried tomatoes. Add the rice to the mix, stir a bit and then add chicken broth (1 part rice to 2 parts broth) and a bit of sherry to cook the rice. Twenty minutes later or whenever the liquid is all absorbed, it's ready. But make sure you check on the even cooking. That's critical!

I noticed this recipe didn't call for sofrito, that tomato, garlic and onion goodness slow-cooked and frequently used in paellas as a flavoring base. I have cooked paella with sofrito and it is quite something. But this paella withstood the flavor test even without it, although admittedly, it has all three ingredients of sofrito -- (albeit sun-dried) tomato, garlic and onion -- in it separately.


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