When trying to cook a dish for the first time, a recipe is always helpful but for me, learning how to do it from someone who knows and does it well is always a better thing.
I have been wanting to cook paella but thought it would be particularly daunting. My long time and very good friend, the Kastila had always told me how easy it was until I finally decided to take his word for it.
Over lunch of fried chicken and beer, he talked me through the process while I took copious notes in my brain. His final words to me were "It takes longer to prep than to cook".
What you put in your paella can vary. In Spain, they have many versions usually based on just where the paella comes from -- a landlocked province would use meat while a place near the sea would have both meat and seafood.
For my paella, I decided to use chicken thighs, pork belly, shrimp and chorizo.
By the way, do you know the provenance of Chorizo El Rey, also known locally as Chorizo Bilbao? I always thought it was a Spanish brand until a cousin who lives in the US and always bought a can whenever he visited Manila, finally read the label and much to his chagrin, realised he could have bought it from the factory in Nebraska.
My father, who used Chorizo el Rey oh so sparingly, as if it were precious rubies, would be spinning in his grave if he knew that.
Remembering how my father never let anything go to waste -- I peeled the shrimp, leaving the tails on and then pounded the heads and shells together, straining the liquid to make a flavourful addition to the broth for my paella.
The Kastila said that arborio rice is the best variety to use although he did mention that Calrose would do.
He had given me two of his paelleras, well used and seasoned, they would make cooking easier and I wouldn't have to worry about preparing the pan before using it. For this recipe, I used the bigger 14 inch paellera.
To start off, I browned the chicken and pork pieces in olive oil, seasoning them with salt and pepper. Stir to keep them from sticking. I used chicken thighs with the bones in because I felt they would add a bit more flavour than breast fillets. If you decide to use boneless chicken and pork tenderloin, try not to overcook so that the meat does not dry out.
Removing the browned meat from the pan, I made my sofrito which was made of garlic, a small onion, lots of tomatoes and paprika. Sofrito is the base used in most spanish dishes and familiarly, is much like our basic ginisa (except for the paprika).
The Kastila said that he doesn't use onions, but I included a small one, just because I'm so used to it. Somehow, it did not seem like ginisa without onions. And my father always used to say that the secret to a good dish was in the ginisa.
Once the sofrito started to come together, I put in the rice, stirring well so the grains would absorb everything. Then I put back the browned meats, the chorizo and the green beans. The warm broth comes next. Keep a bit of broth of reserve in case your paella dries out. I kept half a cup on hand but did not need to use it.
Keep the heat on high to cook the rice. When the liquid has reduced, turn down the heat and put the shrimp and olives on top. Cover with foil towards the end of the cooking process.
Here is my first try at paella! I'm quite proud of how it turned out. Muy buen sabor!
I was able to season it well. The rice was not wet or dry but had absorbed the taste of the sofrito
and the broth. It had the sheen of oil but was not oily. Best of all, there was some "tutong" or as
the spanish call it, socarrat which is the burnt but deliciously crisp rice left at the bottom of the pan.
My son scraped it all up!
Muchisimas gracias to the Kastila for teaching me how to make a paella. He was right, the preparation takes longer than the cooking process but it is a relatively facil dish to make -- with results that are definitely worth it!
Here's how I made this paella, just by ouido!
Arborio rice, 2 cups
4 pcs chicken thighs, cut in half (or you can use boneless chicken thighs if you like)
1 piece pork belly (if you prefer less fat, you can use pork loin instead), sliced in 2 in. pieces
1/4 kg shrimps, medium size, remove heads and shells but keep the tails on
2 pcs Chorizo el Rey sliced (you can use the canned Purefoods chorizo if you prefer)
Baguio beans or habichuelas, sliced diagonally
Pitted olives (optional)
4 cups warm broth (homemade or you can use cubes or powder)
Saffron threads (just a pinch since saffron is so expensive)
For the sofrito
Chopped garlic (I used one whole garlic)
Lots of chopped tomatoes (you can use canned but if using fresh, make sure tomatoes are ripe)
One chopped onion (optional)
1 tsp paprika
How to Make
In 12 inch paellera brown the meats in 1/2 cup olive oil, set aside.
Using the same oil, sauté the garlic, onion (optional), tomatoes. When tomatoes are softened,
put 1 tsp paprika and stir quickly. Add 2 cups of arborio rice and blend well.
When rice grains are well coated with the oil and sofrito, add the previously cooked meats, the chorizo and the green beans.
Next add the 4 cups warm broth. If you have saffron, you can mix the threads with the broth or put it when you make your sofrito.
Make sure heat is on high so that the broth can cook the rice.
If your paellera is too big for the burner, you can buy a heat diffuser that will help you cook the rice more evenly. The Kastila had given me his diffuser but it didn't match my gas stove so I had to lift the pan up and move it around a bit to make sure the heat was distributed more evenly.
After about 5 or 6 minutes on high heat, and when the liquid in the paellera has been reduced, lower the flame. Cover with foil. After a few minutes, lift the foil and check the rice for doneness and if it has been seasoned to your taste.
By this time, the liquid will have been fully absorbed. Now, add the shrimp and olives on top of the rice and cover again with foil. Keep it on a low flame for a few more minutes or until shrimps are
cooked. Remove from stove and let sit for a while so that the rice can further absorb all the liquid, perhaps another 5 minutes.
Keep covered with foil until ready to eat. Makes 6 to 8 servings.