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Daily Press - January 13, 2013
Daily Press

Paella brings family and friends together for good food and company

David Nicholson

Making a paella requires a few simple ingredients — rice, broth, saffron, smoked paprika, vegetables and meat or seafood. To make a great one you need to assemble the right stuff.

For Don Harris, who founded La Tienda in Williamsburg, it's all about the rice.

"Rice for paella needs to absorb a lot of broth or the dish will be tasteless," he says.

Uncle Ben's or another kind of sticky rice won't do. He recommends a good Spanish rice such as Calasparra that's hard and dry enough to absorb a lot of liquid.

You also need a shallow flat-bottomed pan that allows the rice to form a crust on the bottom while it's cooking. The word "paella" actually refers to the two-handled pan in which the dish is prepared and served.

If you've never tasted the dish or are longing to revisit it, La Tienda is serving paella on Fridays during the month of January. Harris and his two sons operate this retail store and online business that imports gourmet products from Spain and ships them throughout the United States.

Paella started as a farmers' lunch served in the field in the early afternoon. Rabbit and snails were once popular additions. Now, pieces of meat — often chicken and chorizo sausage — or seafood — shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari — are used in this popular dish. Meats are sauteed in olive oil then removed from the pan. Rice, broth and spices are added, then vegetables such as butter beans and roasted red peppers, and the dish is cooked on the stove. The meat and seafood is added back in, and the dish is finished off in the oven.

"Different parts of Spain use different ingredients depending on what's local," says Jonathan Harris, La Tienda's president and one of Don's sons. "In the Valencia area, they use game such as rabbit and chicken. Near Barcelona it's more seafood."

The idea of incorporating regional products works at home as well. Jonathan Harris has used soft-shell crabs in his paella. He also could see a paella made with traditional Virginia country ham and oysters.

In Spain, paellas are either all meat or all seafood, never a mixture, says Don Harris, though American versions sometimes include both. And though exotic ingredients such as lobster are sometimes used, he points out, "this is basically a simple rice dish and it doesn't have to cost a fortune."

Paella-making equipment also can include a gas cooking stand that the paella pan is placed on. Tiny gas jets cook the dish evenly in an outdoor setting. Gas or charcoal grills also can be used as a heat source.

"In the backyard you can spend time with friends while cooking," says Jonathan Harris. "It's fun, it's much more approachable than people think, and it's really affordable."

Charlene Camroux, store manager and chef at La Tienda, calls it a "great husband and wife dish" for cooking together in the kitchen. She's planning a series of cooking events at the store throughout the year that will highlight the cuisines of different regions of Spain.

"Paella has great colors, balance and a sense of beauty," she says.

Easy Paella With Chicken and Chorizo

Makes 4 servings.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 cubes fish bouillon

2 cubes chicken bouillon

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)

5 cups water

1/2 large onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 tomato, chopped

1/2 pound cooking chorizo, in 1/4 inch slices

1/4 cup chopped parsley

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

6 ounces roasted piquillo peppers

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 cups Bomba rice

4 chicken thighs

Extra virgin olive oil for cooking

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Fill a saucepan with the water and place on medium high heat. Add all four bouillon cubes, the saffron and the paprika.

With a cleaver, chop the chicken into small pieces. Salt the chicken and rub with a small amount of paprika.

On medium-high heat, brown the chicken and chorizo in olive oil in a 13-inch paella pan for about 5-10 minutes. Remove to a platter. Add the onion, bell pepper, chopped garlic and parsley. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the rice to the pan with the vegetables, along with the tomato and piquillo peppers. Cook for another 5 minutes, until the rice starts to brown.

Pour the broth into the paella pan. Stir until it boils. Add the chicken and chorizo pieces, burying them in the paella. Scatter the cloves of garlic around the top.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, taste the rice to see whether it is done. You can leave a little broth in the paella, or cook until the broth is fully absorbed, to your taste.

Mixed Paella

Makes 6-8 servings.

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

6 cups very strong chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)

1 small onion, peeled

2 small chickens, about 21/2 pounds each

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 pound cooking chorizo, in 1/4 inch slices

1/4 pound piece jamón serrano ham, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

4 scallions, chopped

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

2 roasted piquillo peppers

1 pound small or medium shrimp, shelled

2 (Optional) Live lobsters, boiled, split and divided into tail sections and claws (discard or keep the head and small claws); or

4 (Optional) Lobster tails, split lengthwise (lobster can be a little expensive, so replace it with a comparable amount of shrimp if you wish)

8 (Optional) King crab claws; or

8 jumbo shrimp, in their shells, preferably heads on

3 cups short grain Spanish rice such as Bomba or Calasparra

5 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 bay leaves, crumbled

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 pound fresh or frozen peas

18 clams and/or mussels, scrubbed

Lemon wedges for garnish

Parsley for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the broth with the saffron, paprika and the whole onion. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the onion and measure the broth — you need exactly 5 1/2 cups.

Cut the chickens into small serving pieces — the whole breast in 4 parts, each thigh into 2 parts, the bony tip of the leg chopped off, the wing tip discarded, and the rest of the wing separated into 2 parts. Dry the pieces well and sprinkle with salt.

In a metal paella pan, with about a 15-inch base, heat the oil. Add the chicken pieces and fry over high heat until golden. Remove to a warm platter.

Add the chorizo, and jamón to the pan and stir fry about 10 minutes.

Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimentos and saute until the onion is wilted.

Add the shrimp and the lobster and saute about 3 minutes more, or until the shrimp and lobster barely turn pink (the lobster will cook more in the oven.) Remove the shrimp and lobster to the platter with the chicken.

Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil. Sprinkle in the 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley and the crumbled bay leaves. (You can make in advance up to this point.)

Stir in the chicken broth (boiling hot), the wine, rice, and peas. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat about 10 minutes. Bury the shrimp and the chicken in the rice. Add the clams and the mussels, pushing them into the rice, with the edge that will open facing up. Decorate the paella with the lobster pieces, then bake at 325 degrees, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. To serve, decorate with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

Paella tips from La Tienda

•-Pay attention to your broth. Make it rich and flavorful with fish or chicken stock, shrimp shells and seasoning.

•-Use firm and absorbent rice. Spaniards always use short-grained rice, as it absorbs lots of rich broth with each grain remaining distinct. Do not substitute creamy arborio, sticky Asian short grain, fragile and aromatic basmati, or regular long grain American rice, which is not absorbent.

•-Use real Spanish saffron, which will give the dish deep aroma and flavor.

Want to get started?

La Tienda (1325 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg; 757-253-1925; http://www.latienda.com) sells a paella starter kit that includes a steel paella pan, good quality olive oil, Calasparra rice, Spanish smoked paprika and saffron. It retails for $79.

Paella pans also are available at some gourmet shops. Any round, flat-bottomed pan will work though the results may not be as good. And though Calasparra and Bomba rice are the best to use, other Spanish varieties will work. "We sell an inexpensive Valencian rice that makes a great paella," says Jonathan Harris.

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