One of the great things about getting down to our beach house at Lorne for the weekend is the opportunity to cook up a feast for our family and friends.
The other is to make use of the fine seafood, vegetables and smallgoods available at the local stores.
For a party of six or more, a paella is the perfect dish to conquer both of the above.
The paella is a rice based dish, originating from Spain. It is thought the first paellas came from the Valencian region, typically using rabbit or chicken, snails and beans. Nowadays, the many paella variations now found in restaurants will likely bare little resemblance to the first dishes from 19th century Spain. The classical “Western” paella consists usually of seafood (often prawns, mussels and fish) and perhaps a surf-and-turf inclusion of chorizo and/or chicken.
While a traditional Spaniard may scoff at some of these new age interpretations, my opinion is that even a more Western paella, when executed in accordance with some basic paella principles, can still capture the spirit of the original dishes.
These principles are:
The rice is the star of the dish, everything else plays second fiddle. Therefore, the correct rice selection is crucial to a great paella outcome.
Short grain is strictly only acceptable, and preferably either Calasparra or Bomba rice. If the only thing you have is Arborio, then this is a one-time-only acceptable substitution. Jasmine or basmati are a definite no-no.
My preference is calasparra, I think the texture is perfect. It is also relatively easy to find at local markets and delis. Yes, it is worth the search.
The sofrito is a rich and jammy sauce, that provides the rice with some additional flavour and liquid. The sofrito I made was a combination primarily of capsicum and tomatoes, as well as bay leaves and garlic.
My version below was based on the Movida recipe I followed. I imagine that you could use a variant of these flavours to taste.
You really need a great stock for a paella. I wanted to make a great fish stock for my paella but I had trouble tracking down fish heads at short notice (a trip to South Melbourne market, Victoria Street in Richmond and even the fish co-op at Lorne brought no joy). This meant I had to purchase 1.5 litres of fancy stuff from Lorne Greens. ($24?!).
Make (or purchase) the best stock you can. It makes a big difference to the flavour of the rice once it all comes together.
A paellera is a large, shallow pan for cooking paella. If you can’t obtain one of these, use a large frying pan.
Socarrat – optional(!)
The socarrat of paella is the burnt and slightly caramelised crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan.
This crust of burnt rice is achieved by not stirring the rice for the duration of the cooking/absorption process.
Unfortunately, I think the heat was not quite strong enough during my cooking to achieve the much admired socarrat. I’ll mark this as an optional outcome from a paella, as you can certainly get a great tasting dish without the socarrat making an appearance.
The recipe I used was based on the Movida cookbook, by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish. Frank being the chef from the famous Melbourne restaurant by the same name. For my adaption, I excluded the rabbit, fish and periwinkles. I added squid, mussels and chorizo instead!
Making the Sofrito…
Here are the ingredients!
Fry up some diced onion, garlic and bay leaves for around 10 minutes.
In the meantime, dice up the capsicum. (This sends you a little crazy after four of them…)
Add the capsicum to the onions. Keep stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick. It takes over an hour for it to really come together.
Making the Paella…
Here are the ingredients!
Firstly, take out your paella pan and fry up some olive oil, the saffron, rosemary, thyme and garlic. At this stage, you can also fry your chorizos. On a large barbeque, it was useful to be able to do this side by side with the paella underway…
Next step is to add the rice. Warm it through for a minute or two, then add the sofrito to stir through. Great colour!
Add the white wine and the fish stock. Now, from the point on, you should no longer stir the dish, in order to create the socarrat crust on the bottom (theoretically!).
The next 20 to 30 minutes is done by look and feel. Keep the heat as even as possible on the bottom of the pan. As you can image above, on a barbeque the heat in uneven. We continually rotated the pan at achieve an even heat.
Over the next little while, the rice will begin to absorb the liquid. Don’t stir, it’s not risotto!
You’ll see it get to a stage where it’s almost ready. It’s probably best now to add seafood at this point, as it needs the least cooking. A handy hint from my recipe was to place the prawns over little air bubbles in the rice, where steam was escaping.
Once you’re happy with it, cover with foil to rest.
While resting, fry up some garlic, a bit more of the wine and steam the mussels in a pan. Give them a shake after five minutes and throw out any that don’t open.
Place the best mussels on top of the paella. Garnish with lemon and parsley.
125ml olive oil
2 white onions, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
4 large red capsicums, seeded and diced
4 ripe tomatoes (alternatively, ~300g canned tomatoes)
- Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan over low-med heat
- Saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves for around 10 minutes to soften
- Add the capsicum. Cook for around 30 minutes.
- Add the tomato and continue to cook at a low heat for another 1 to 1.5 hours
- Makes around 450g (or two cups)
100ml olive oil
pinch of saffron
2 tbsp of thyme leaves
2 tsp of rosemary leaves
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
800g calasparra rice
1 chorizo sausage, sliced and grilled
250ml white wine
1.5 litres of fish stock
extra hot water on hand
1 squid tube, sliced into strips
small bag of mussels, debearded
12-15 small raw prawns
handful of frozen peas
2 tbsp of flat leaf parsley for garnish
1 lemon, sliced for garnish
- Heat the oil in your paella pan.
- Add the saffron, thyme, rosemary and garlic. Stir for a minute or so.
- Add the rice, with perhaps a few pinches of salt. Stir for a minute to coat the rice in the herbs and oil.
- Outside of the pan at this time, fry up your chorizo.
- Add the wine, and then fish stock, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high to bring to boil.
- From now on, do not stir the dish.
- After 15-20 minutes, the rice will have made it’s way towards the surface. If you’re short on liquid, add more hot water if required. Don’t add more than necessary. Better to have to little than too much.
- Add the chorizo, dotted around the rice.
- Once the rice has almost absorbed all liquid, place the prawns and squid around the rice. Add the peas.
- Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so until rice is done and no liquid remains.
- Remove from the heat and cover with foil, rest for 10 minutes.
- While the rice is resting, fry up a little extra garlic with wine and olive oil. Add the mussels and steam for 5 minutes. Discard unopened mussels.
- To garnish, add mussels to the top of the rice. Cover with the chopped parsley and sliced lemon.
- Serves six people very generously