Being Asian, I like rice. Being Japanese, I love seafood. Add to that my affinity for smoked meats and it's no wonder why Paella is one of my favourite foods off all time. Sadly it's so often relegated to the ranks of mediocrity by pan wielding Cretans manning the stoves at "Spanish" restaurants here in the States. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, but if you've been disappointed as many times as I have by mushy or dry paella you can probably relate.
I have to be honest though, I've never been to Valencia (or Spain for that matter). I have had a lot of paella though and I can't imagine a Valencian being okay with bland pasty mush with chewy bits of mystery seameat. On rare occasion I've had a memorable paella, and this is my attempt at recreating some of the best ones to grace my non-Spaniard palette.
For me, a truly great paella is loaded with meat and seafood, with an intense smokey flavour coming from browned Chorizo and tender chunks of chicken. The seafood should be fresh, plump and succulent including things like shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels, or whatever other seafood is fresh at the fish monger today. The rice should be overflowing with umami having a velvety texture and a deep golden hue imbued by the saffron and soffrito. Most importantly, there has to be a layer of mahogany brown soccarat at the bottom of the pan from the rice and sauce caramelizing to the pan.
The following recipe achieved all my goals and best of all it's simple enough to make on a weeknight. While I always encourage you to improvise your own version, here are a couple tips for a successful paella.
First, make sure you use the right kind of rice. Ideally you'll find some Arroz Valencia, but if it's not available, Arborio or Carnaroli will do. Second, make sure you get the right kind of Chorizo. Mexican Chorizo is not the same. There are also a lot of impostor "Chorizos" out there that are really just cooked sausages with paprika. Spanish Chorizo is cured and is typically pretty dry. If in doubt, get one that's actually from Spain.
So what's your favourite rice dish?
- Marinate the prawns in some olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper about 30 minutes before starting the rest of the paella.
- In a chef's pan (or other large flat pan with a lid), fry the chorizo. There should be enough fat in the Chorizo so that you don't need to add any oil, but if you don't see any fat rendering out after a minute, add some olive oil. When the chorizo is nice and brown and most of the fat has rendered out, transfer it to a paper towel lined plate.
- Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown on both sides in the pan the Chorizo came from. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the chorizo.
- If there is more than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan, use a paper towel to soak the excess up. Add the onions and bell peppers and fry until they are soft and starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and cumin and fry until the garlic is fragrant (another minute or two).
- Add the tomatoes and capers and cook until the tomatoes are soft. Add the rice and stir to coat then add the Chorizo, chicken, saffron, stock and vinegar. Bring to a boil then cover and turn the heat down to medium low (you should see a steady stream of steam escaping).
- After 20 minutes, lay the shrimp on top of the rice and sprinkle the peas and asparagus on top. Cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the rice and shrimp are cooked.
- Serve immediately, scraping up the soccarat that forms at the bottom. Sprinkle with some parsley serve with some lemon wedges for squeezing.