This, mis amigos, is a true Spanish paella. The photo above was taken in a restaurant two friends I visited on a weekend trip to Valencia, a large city on the eastern coast of Spain, during my semester abroad there. This has to be one of the best meals I ate in the country–paella valenciana is renowned for its authenticity, even though you can get paella in mostly every Spanish cafe or restaurant.
(Paella is one of the most typically “Spanish” dishes. It’s almost like a giant casserole, made with saffron-infused rice and any number of added ingredients. Seafood paellas will include mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, and prawns. Mixed paellas will have some seafood elements as well as chicken or rabbit. And vegetarian paellas have peppers, snap peas, and other yummy legumes.)
I was doing a bit of reminiscing about my time in Europe this weekend, so I decided to share with you a recipe I inherited while I was there!
La comida española came to mind this weekend in particular during one of my apartment hunting trips. I’m currently in the throes of searching for an apartment closer to my job, and I say “throes” because the process is incredibly beyond stressful–I feel like the only things I do anymore are read Craigslist and visit apartments, half of which have already been rented by the time I actually get there to see them.
On this particular day, I got to the area a bit before my appointment, so I decided to wander around and check out the local fare. What did I happen to find? A Spanish tapas restaurant! I’m no stranger to Mexican food, or even South American cuisine, within the five boroughs, but finding places that brand themselves as authentically Spanish doesn’t happen to me quite as often. I stopped to read the streetside menu, and one of the proprietors came out to greet me. When I mentioned that I was so excited to find his establishment because I’d lived in Salamanca for four months during college, he exclaimed, “Una salamantina!” and then proceeded to talk to me solely in Spanish for the next five minutes I stood there.
It was fantastic. I absolutely love any opportunity I get to practice my Spanish (my favorite day of a cruise I took recently was the day I got to haggle for our souvenirs in Cozumel), but I get really self-conscious about it in New York, where so many people are native speakers.
Anyway, it got me thinking about all of the fabulous paella I ate while I was in Spain. Paella is the Sunday supper for a true Spanish family. In truth, my host mother would only serve this dish on Sundays, and making it was a huge (and time-consuming!) production. The version I’m giving you below could possibly be dubbed Paella for Dummies…or maybe just Paella para Americanos. I took a cooking class while I was in Spain, and this was one of the dishes the chef showed us how to prepare (I’m sure the other two will surface in the future!). I took copious notes, and I’m so glad I did!
We made the paella above for one of my roommate’s birthdays during my senior year of college (you’ve met her before–D, my sugar Sweet sunshine doctor-photographer). She studied in Sevilla, so our common love of all things español unites us as well.
I spaced out the ingredients (which are mostly still in EU measurements, since they’re from my cooking class–I added conversions where I thought necessary) a bit more than I usually do because I added some commentary below. This recipe is really, really versatile and can be easily adapted to what you have on hand or what you’re able to do. A true Spaniard would probably disown me, but I promise you it’s hard to mess this up!
(for 6 people, with heaping portions)
1 onion, cut into tiny pieces
3 peppers (green, red, yellow) – optional
1/2 cup olive oil
2 g saffron, ground [I know this is an expensive ingredient, but the paella won't have that gorgeous golden color without it--it's worth the splurge!]
Salt, to taste
700 g of rice, cooked (about 25 oz)
1.2 liters of water or stock (2x more liquid than rice, if you change the proportions)
laurel (added to water for flavoring)
1/2 of a chicken, cut with the bones still inside
[When my roommates and I made this, we used boneless chicken breasts cut into strips--use what you've got!]
200 g shrimp
[The frozen kind work just fine, if you're on a college student's budget]
200 g mussels/clams – optional
200 g calamari (~5 pieces, cut) – optional
1. In a large frying pan (or a giant paella pan), cook olive oil, onions, peppers, and saffron (ground) for 10 minutes on very high heat. Add salt, to taste.
2. Heat water/stock in a separate pot, add laurel. Bring to a boil.
3. Add chicken to the vegetables and continue cooking.
4. Add shrimp, mussels, and calamari (if using) to cooking chicken and vegetable mixture. (If you use mussels, make sure they open when you cook them!)
5. Add boiling water/broth to your meats and vegetables to moisten.
6. Add cooked rice to your pan. [My roommates and I were also on a college budget--we used that Minute Rice stuff and it still worked just fine. Just as long as you've already prepared the rice before you add it to the veggies and meats!]
7. Allow paella to cook for 20 minutes on medium heat OR
8. Cook for 5 minutes on very high heat, then for 5 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit). [If you're using an oven-safe skillet or pan, this'll give your paella that nice crispy-crunchy top that you can see in my authentic picture at the beginning of this post.]
I hope you enjoy! (Que te disfrutes!!)