Paella is a culinary gift from the Valencia region of Spain to the rest of the world. In this version we have a combination of meats from land, sea and air, simmered to perfection with saffron-infused rice in the pan. Not that many people cook Paella because they believe it requires a special variety of rice from Spain and a special cast iron Paella pan. It does not, everybody can cook a reasonably authentic Spanish Paella even if they are not from Spain. My recipe uses Japanese Rice, the ideal substitute rice for Paella.
- Prawns (4 large)
- Chicken Leg with Thigh (1)
- Black Mussels (8)
- Smoked Pancetta (80g)
- Spicy Chorizo Sausage (80g)
- Onion (1)
- Tomatoes (1)
- Raw Japanese Rice (1 cup)
- Lemon (2 wedges)
- Saffron Threads
For this recipe you’ll need a large frying pan that is 11 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (I’ll assume you don’t keep a cast iron paella pan just lying around). It should come with a cover and can be a bigger but no smaller. Ideally you should also use a diffuser like the one shown below to make the heat even, but it is not essential.
- Debone the chicken leg and cut the meat into bite sized chunks. Cut the heads off your prawns just behind the carapace and snip off all whiskers. Shell and devein the prawn bodies and slice lengthwise down the middle to bisect each prawn.
- Boil 2 cups of water in a pot. Add the chicken bones and prawn heads into the boiling stock pot and keep the stock simmering on a low flame.
- Slice the Chorizo. Set aside 6 slices of Chorizo and put the remaining slices of Chorizo into the simmering stock pot. Furthermore, cut the pancetta into small pieces.
- In the meanwhile marinate the chicken and prawn meat in a mixture of 2T oil, 1t oregano, 1t chopped parsley, 1t paprika and flat 0.5t of salt.
- Julienne the onion into small bits, press enough garlic to get roughly 1T of minced garlic and dice 1 tomato.
- Soak and agitate the mussels in some cold water. Strain, then clean and de-beard the mussels. Add the mussels to the stock pot and turn off the fire after a minute.
- Drizzle some oil onto your frying pan. Stir pancetta on low heat until the fat has been rendered from the meat.
- Add the onion to the pan. Continue stir frying on low heat until they begin to brown. Next add one cup of Japanese rice and continue to stir fry for a minute more to coat the rice grains.
- Pour the stock through a strainer into the pan. Add the garlic, tomatoes together with 1t paprika, 1t oregano, 1t of saffron threads, 0.5t sugar and the juice from 2 lemon wedges. Top off with enough water to bring the water level one third of the way to the top.
- Bring the pan to a low simmer. Start the clock when you notice the water bubbling. You should aim for all the visible water and bubbling to disappear at the 30 min mark. Adjust the fire and sprinkle addition hot water accordingly to do this.
- Arrange the grilled prawns, chicken and the reserved slices of Chorizo in a casserole (or baking tray) and place in a preheated oven. Grill till the prawns twirl up. Turn off the oven but leave everything in the oven so it stays warm.
- At the 30 min mark carefully arrange the mussels and all the grilled meat on or into the rice and spoon the drippings from the grilling onto the rice evenly. Cover the pan. The ‘socarrat’ or crust should form at the bottom of the pan at this stage. After a minute with the cover on, turn off the fire and wait for five minutes while the rice gets properly fluffed up and reaches its maximum size.
- The ideal rice for Paella is a short-grained Spanish variety like Bomba, but those are not easy to buy outside of Europe. Many tend to use Italian Arborio as a substitute because it also happens to be short grained but that is entirely the wrong type of rice to use. Rice meant for risotto cannot absorb too much water without becoming mushy because of its high amylopectin content which is why risotto is eaten wet and al dente. Paella must be cooked until it is dry outside but fully hydrated inside which is what makes Japanese rice ideal in this case.
- A personal secret ingredient when I cook my paella is cod liver oil. I usually add some diced smoked cod liver and use some of the oil that comes in the tin instead of olive oil. This adds tons of rich seafood flavour.
- You can also use mussels that were pre-cooked in brine and frozen but pour away the brine. It is very easy for Paella to get overly salty. Sometimes I use clams instead of mussels.
- Try not to disturb the rice too much; you can move the rice around a bit at first if you notice the heat in the pan is uneven but once the rice begins to soften you should leave it alone or the delicate rice grains will break. You definitely do not want to keep stirring continuously like you are cooking a risotto.
- You will notice I boiled some of the Chorizo in the stock. In my opinion this is the best way to extract its flavour to the rice. Do not add the boiled Chorizo back to the rice, only the Chorizo that was grilled with the chicken can be used as a topping.