Taking a day off from sharing my Camino adventures to discuss food. I love food, diet is not a word that fits into my vocabulary. When the taste buds are happy the tummy is happy when the tummy is happy I’m happy.
After returning from my travel adventures I traditionally prepare an authentic meal of the country visited to share with the GNO peeps. This group of co-workers from over the years enjoy great food and I love to cook for people with enthusiasm for food. With exception of pincho (tapas) most meals I had on the Camino were pilgrim meals. Pilgrim meals generally consist of fries, a choice of beef, chicken or fish and dessert. My favorite pilgrim meal was Hake, a soft white fish with a subtle flavor, it is delicious. The problem with pilgrim meals, even though tasty they are not an impressive meal. The GNO girls expect to be WOWED, they want to feel as though they have been transported to the country. Keeping this challenge in mind I decide to duplicate the memorable meal I had in Agés at Cafe El Alquimista, Paella, Spanish Salad, and Sangria.
Paella – Paella roots are from Valencia in Eastern Spain. If you’re going to serve a dish it is always important to pronounce it properly. Paella is pronounced “pa-e-ya” with the “e” as in “bet”. Keep those double l’s silent. If you google or search Pinterest, which I recommend, you’re going to find lots and lots of versions claiming to be authentic. I will not make that claim about my Paella. To clarify I don’t follow recipes, I am a dump cook. I look at a bunch of recipes pick what I like out of them then start dumping. I determined Paella is a perfect dish for a cook like me, gather what you like and dump it in the pan, I’m pretty sure there are no right or wrong ingredients. I am going to share the tips a super special Spanish friend shared with me on how to make the perfect Paella.
The Pan – The pan can make or break a great Paella. The perfect pan should be a thin metal that distributes heat evenly, have low sides with a flat bottom and little dimples that oil can pool in. This type of pan is conducive to the creating soccarat, the tasty, crunchy, caramelized crust that makes Paella divine. My pan of choice is a polished carbon steel pan. Carbon steel will rust so it is important to take proper care of the pan. After each use, I rub flax oil on my pan, place it in a cold oven and heat to five hundred degrees. Leave the pan in the oven at five hundred degrees for an hour then turn off the oven leaving the pan to cool. Store the pan where it won’t get moisture and your pan should last for years.
The Rice – Proper rice is the key to Paella, it needs to have the ability to absorb the flavor of the broth. The perfect rice grain is rounded and short. Arborio is acceptable however I recommend finding a Spanish rice such as bomba. I personally order Calasparra rice from Amazon. Calasparra is not a variety of rice but the name of the region in Spain the rice is grown, for me and my Spanish friend, it is the perfect rice for Paella. The important thing to remember about cooking Paella is to not stir the rice. The Paella should be dry and the grains should easily separate when the cooking process has been completed. I’m going to repeat this, once you get the rice spread out evenly in the pan DO NOT stir. In my humble opinion, the rice not the other ingredients should be the star of the dish in Paella.
My Ingredients – 8 boneless chicken thighs seasoned. cut in half, 8oz of Spanish chorizo, 1 onion diced, 1/2 red pepper diced, 4 tomatoes skinned and diced, 6 garlic cloves diced, 3 cups of rice. Broth 6 cups of water, 6 teaspoons of chicken flavored Better than Bouillon, 3 to 4 packets of Paellero Paella Seasoning, which was recommended by my friend (I ordered mine on Amazon). The peeps aren’t veggies fans or I would have added some flat beans and lima beans.
Cooking the Paella – As I said earlier I don’t follow recipes so I’m going to tell how I prepared my Paella leaving it to you to decide what to use for yours. It’s important to brown and saute all the ingredients in the pan so the flavors meld together. First cook the seasoned boneless chicken thighs for about six minutes on each side, removed them from the pan. Brown the Spanish Chorizo, remove that from the pan and do a quick sauté of the shrimp, not fully cooking them. Caramelize the onions, red peppers adding the garlic towards the end so as to not burn the garlic. I added fresh tomatoes that were blanched so the skin would peel off easily. Chop finely, add to the onion mixture and cook for roughly seven minutes. Sliding the mixture to the side add the rice into the pan lightly coating in olive oil. Keeping the heat high add the broth, stir the mixture just enough to spread the ingredients evenly in the pan. Finally add the pre-cooked meat on top. A good rule is the rice mixture should not be deeper than half an inch deep in the pan. REMEMBER do not stir again. Cook roughly 20 minutes, lower the heat to medium after it comes to a boil. Move/turn the pan occasionally to keep the heat distributed evenly. Add any seafood towards the end, maybe the last several minutes. Now it is time to create the soccarat. Raise the heat to caramelize to a toasty dark brown, this could take three or more minutes. Some like the rice al dente, I prefer it cooked more but not to the extent of being mushy. Turn off the heat, cover with foil and let sit approximately five minutes.
Scroll down for the recipe for the BEST ever Sangria.
Don’t forget to make a beautiful salad to accompany your yummy Paella. In an effort to duplicate the Spanish salad from Cafe El Alquimista in Agés Spain, I added peas and corn. Unfortunately, I could not find jar white asparagus, I substituted green asparagus however it was not the same. Another interesting ingredient in a Spanish salad is tuna.
The Best Sangria EVER
Another one of our super special friend from Spain shared his delicious Sangria recipe. Not only is it great with Paella it is very refreshing on a hot summer day. I’m not much of a soda pop drinker, I had concerns over the Orange Fanta, I’m here to tell you it is an important ingredient that makes the Sangria perfect. Sadly I was out of cinnamon sticks, I’m certain it would have heightened the flavor of the drink. The red wine I had was sweet so I opted not to add the sugar mixture, taste your mixture before you add. Let the wine mixture, cinnamon stick and diced fruits of choice rest for several hours in the fridge. Serve with ice.
1-liter red wine
1-liter orange Fanta
juice from one lemon
Several shots of rum or vodka
Garnish with a Cinnamon stick, sliced fruit: oranges, apples, peaches, pears…..etc as you like.
Simple sugar mixture (heat on stove equal parts of water & sugar) – several spoons
I hope you love this Sangria as much as I do.