Thanks to wikipaella, I finally discovered why the paella I had in Spain wasn’t as good as the paella I make myself. It was a different animal. I vacationed in the far south of Spain with my mother more than a decade ago, and in that region the rice is infused with seafood but not showered with it.
Yes, there’s a wiki for paella. Check it out at wikipaella.com. If you click on “recetas,” you’ll see that some anal type surveyed 319 restaurants in the Valencia area of Spain, where the dish originated, and compiled a chart of common ingredients. Percentages are given for the prevalence of each ingredient in three types of authentic (autentica) paella.
In Valencia paella, the 100 percent must-haves are chicken, salt, tomato, rice, water, olive oil and saffron. Almost-100-percenters are rabbit, fava beans and smoked paprika. Other significant ingredients include snails, rosemary, garlic and duck.
The type of paella in the south where my mother and I dined is arroz a banda, in which the rice is infused with seafood broth and mixed with chopped shrimp and squid. No wonder the paella I had was garnished with just a shrimp or two. I thought the restaurants were being cheap. No, they were just being autentica.
In Spain, paella rarely (never?) is made with both seafood and chicken or rabbit. And sausage? They would run you out of town.
But knowledge doesn’t always beget wisdom. I still love paella with chicken AND seafood AND sausage. The combo was good enough for Craig Claiborne when he wrote “The New York Times Cook Book” in 1961 and it still is good enough for me.
I’m not totally stuck in the past, though. After reading the wiki, I amended Claiborne’s recipe to include common Spanish paella ingredients he probably didn’t have access to at the time — specifically, smoked paprika and fava beans instead of peas. I skipped the pimiento and green pepper in his recipe, too, and substituted pancetta for the salt pork and ham.
Claiborne’s recipe is more compact than the one below, but I wanted to add information on handling and purging the mussels and clams.
This paella is one of my favorite dishes for a group because it covers all the bases — seafood for meat avoiders, chicken for seafood haters and, if you serve it with Champagne sangria as I did to a group of Tony’s ESL (English as a second language) classmates last week, enough bubbly to break the ice around the communal table.
12 large shrimp
12 smallish (50 cent size) clams
1 lb. mussels
1 tsp. oregano
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. vinegar
8 meaty chicken legs or mix of legs and thighs
4 oz. pancetta
1 6-inch link of chorizo sausage, preferably dried, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. capers
2 1/4 cups white long- or medium-grain white rice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 cup peeled fava beans or edamame
Shell and de-vein the shrimp and refrigerate. Take the clams and mussels immediately home from the store (no stopping for a fro yo) and place over ice in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a wet dish towel and refrigerate. Use that same day.
Prep all of the ingredients (chop the onion, slice the sausage, measure out spices) and line them up in order of use next to the stove.
About 1 1/2 hours before dinner, combine the peppercorns, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the vinegar in a mortar or a sturdy little bowl and grind together with a pestle or mash with the back of a wooden spoon until thoroughly amalgamated. Rub chicken all over with the mixture and refrigerate.
Fill a large mixing bowl three-fourths of the way with cool water. Stir in 1/2 cup or so of salt until dissolved. Place clams and mussels in water and let stand at room temperature to purge any sand the shellfish contain. Tony purges overnight for sushi, but 20 minutes to an hour is long enough.
About an hour before dinner, fry pancetta in a large, deep skillet or paella pan until crisp.
Remove the pancetta and reserve. Add remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Fry chicken over medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides. Stir in chorizo, onions and capers. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and transparent, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash rice in a bowl of cool water two or three times, swishing it around with your fingers and draining off the starchy water and refilling each time. Drain well. Begin heating a covered pot with about 2 inches of water for steaming the mussels and clams.
Add rice and tomato paste to chicken mixture in skillet. Stir, turning it over from top to bottom. Stir in boiling water, saffron, smoked paprika and fava beans. Cover and simmer rapidly for 20 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Turn mixture top to bottom. Stir in shrimp and reserved pancetta. Cover and continue to cook over low heat.
Meanwhile, transfer shellfish to the pot of boiling water. Cover and cook over high heat until the shells open, about 5 minutes.
Turn paella onto a platter and garnish with the clams and shrimp. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.
JANE’S CHAMPAGNE SANGRIA
1 cup mango nectar
2 cans (12 oz. each) fizzy mango-flavored water
1 cup halved grapes
1 nectarine, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 limes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
1 orange, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
3 bottles of sparkling wine
In a pitcher, combine mango nectar, flavored water and fruit. Feel free to substitute or add other chopped fruits such as pineapple and pear.
Fill stemmed wine glasses (not flutes) halfway with juice and fruit. Top with sparkling wine. Makes many, many drinks.
What I cooked/assembled last week:
Muskmelon and prosciutto for a perfect breakfast; a protein shake; pan-grilled top sirloin steak, steamed corn on the cob, roasted green peppers with olive oil and sea salt, and baked potato with sour cream; hard-fried egg and ripe tomato with pesto on whole-wheat toast; roast chicken sandwich on whole-wheat toast with sliced cucumber, tomato, sea salt and mayo; salted almonds and jumbo blue cheese-stuffed olives, paella with chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels, and Champagne sangria with fresh fruit; potato, green bean and corn soup with smoked ham hock and a pesto swirl.
What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a BLT at the Eye Opener in Akron (where I saw on the menu a deep-fried biscuit with Crooked River jam, ala the cronut); Shanghai soup dumplings, chili wontons and stir-fried noodles with beef at LJ Shanghai in Cleveland; plain popcorn at Regal Theater; a cabbage roll and bites of Tony’s sausage and pierogi at Al’s Corner Restaurant in Barberton; garlic marinated shrimp, roast pork tenderloin with wine sauce, mushroom-pecan latkes with chive sour cream, hasselback tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, and a peanut butter-chocolate chip bar at my friend Michele’s; scrambled eggs and grits at Cracker Barrel.
From Louise H.:
I just read your latest newsletter and enjoyed your comments on Mark Auburn’s book, which I have read. I’m so happy to see the mention of this book.
Are you related to Glenna Snow, who was food editor at the Beacon Journal in the 1940s? She was a founder of the University of Akron Women’s Committee and taught at UA after retiring from the Beacon. I have recently read some of the historical articles about her efforts to furnish the UA home economics house in 1948-’49. It was an interesting venture!
No, I’m not related to Glenna, though I’m often asked that question. I just finished writing a brief history of the Beacon Journal’s food coverage for an upcoming book, and delved into Glenna’s career in my research. This is the first I’ve heard of her post-newspaper doings at the University of Akron, though. Thank you for the information.
From Jenny K.:
Several recipes I have call for Japanese sake. I’ve tried to find out the type to use in cooking savory dishes, but with no luck. Do you have any recommendations?
I buy One Cup Sake for cooking because it tastes good (for sake) but is relatively inexpensive. More important, it comes in one-cup glass containers, so I don’t have half a bottle cluttering my refrigerator. Sake is made in various styles and most would work in cooking. But there’s no sense spending a lot of money on the boutique stuff for cooking.