Cookbook Recipe #3: Seafood Paella

This is one of those meals/recipes that seem extremely hard and taxing. I can’t remember the last time I had traditional paella, so I’m not even sure what the source tastes like, but what I love about this recipe is it truly is greater than the sum of its parts. Homemade paealla is simple and yet amazing because the individual ingredients themselves taste amazing. I use chorizo, chicken thighs, shrimp, and mussels (which is one of my favorite ingredients and will do a post about super simple and yet flavorful mussles). All of these ingredients are amazing on their own, but when combined together in a very rich and satisfying rice dish, all the ingredients work together. The key to this dish is timing. Each of the proteins have very different cooking temperatures and times, and it is imperative to not overcook anything. This dish requires a great amount of in process tasting, focus, and boldness. For cooking, you will need a high sided pan.

Ingredients:

Rice – Recipes online will tell you to get arborio (fancy risotto rice), but being Chinese, I just use good ol’ regular short grain rice. Anything short grain is fine.
Chicken Stock – You’ll need enough to cook the rice. I made my own using chicken wings and roasted veg, but feel free to use bouillon or boxed chicken stock. Making your own stock is very easy and allows you to control the flavor profile.
Chicken Thighs – I always buy bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. The bones can be used to make bone broth and rendering the skin for chicken fat is wonderful. For this recipe, I used about 4 chicken thighs, to feed 8 people.
Chorizo – I love using chorizo, it has a very robust smoky and fatty flavor. For this recipe I used both sausage links.
Shrimp – I prefer head-on, peel-on shrimp, seeing as the majority of the flavor will come from the skins and the head, prefer bigger shrimp, not those tiny salad shrimps, I do recommend de-veining the shrimp, as no one wants a poop-track in their food. For this recipe I purchased about 1 1/2 lbs of shrimp.
Mussels – Mussels are a very sustainable source of seafood, it is filled with flavor and is a fairly simple ingredient. It’s also really easy to find, I typically get a 2lb bag at Whole Foods and their quality tends to be pretty spot on. I used only about 1lb for this recipe.
Crushed Tomatoes – can of crushed tomatoes to help add a bit more depth and flavor to the dish.
Garlic, Onions (or Shallots) – Your typical fragrances diced as always.
Smoked Paprika and/or Saffron – If you don’t want to spend money on saffron (of which you should steep in water as you use it), smoked paprika helps with the color as well as the flavor. I used both during this recipe.
Red Chili Flakes/Cayenne – Adds a nice kick to the dish
Salt/Pepper – As always.
Parsely – For garnish
Lemon Wedges – For garnish

Method:

Assuming making a stock is part of prep time, this dish can take upwards of 2-3 hours. Making a rich stock helps by laying the foundation for the flavor profile early. I will make a post about stock at a later date. If you’re using pre-made or store-bought stock, then prep time is limited to chopping up the fragrances and preparing the proteins.

Preparation:
– Dice 3-4 cloves of garlic and at least one whole onion.
– De-skin Chorizo and set aside
– De-bone and de-skin chicken thighs and cut into bite-sized pieces
– De-vein shrimp and leave aside
– Place mussels into a bowl of water (enough to cover), and make sure to wash the shells for dirt and sand. If you say any hairs, feel free to pull them off.

Now that you have everything prepared, we can begin cooking.
Step 1: Begin by browning the cut up chicken thighs with a little bit of oil, just enough to prevent sticking (don’t worry about cooking the chickens thoroughly, they will finish when we put them back into the rice), remove from pan.
Step 2: Then fry the chorizo in the residual oil. (chorizo will have fat, so there is no need to add a great deal). Once it has thoroughly browned, remove from pan, but leave the oil.
Step 3: Fry the shrimp in the oil as well, removing once the skin has turned orange/scarlet. Once again, don’t worry about them being fully cooked, just fry them enough to have the shrimp skins impart flavor into the oil. Remove and set aside.
Step 3: Cook the aromatics, add the diced onion and garlic as well as chili flakes into the pan and cook until fragrant. The garlic and the onion should brown nicely. If the pan is too hot, and you can tell that some bits of the proteins are burning, trust that the onions will release some liquid to help deglaze the pan, as well as feel free to add a small ladle of broth as well.
Step 4: Before adding the rice in, make sure to add a cup of wine to help deglaze the pan and also to add a nice acidity to the flavor profile. I used Torrontes, an Argentinian White Wine (doesn’t matter the vineyard). Add the can of crushed tomatoes and let the mixture boil and thicken.
Step 5: Add the rice in, and begin to stir fry the dry rice grains with all the aromatics. Making sure to constantly have it moving so the rice doesn’t burn. It’s ok for it to brown. At this point, you can add your other spices as well as the saffron.
Step 6: Add your chorizo and chicken thighs back into the rice, and then add some stock. The trick to making paella, similar to risotto is by adding your liquid a bit at a time. Using a ladle, add enough stock to cover, and let it simmer.
CRITICAL TRICK: To know when to add more stock, take your spoon or spatula and essentially draw a line with the rice, if the rice closes the gap easily (meaning it flows), wait. If it takes a while to for the gap to reform, that’s when you know to add more liquid. Make sure to add your stock equally across the pan, so that none of the rice burns.
Step 6: Taste the rice constantly in order to know how close the rice is being done. Make sure to add the lid to help steam the rice as it cooks. When it seems like the rice is close to being done (maybe 3-5 minutes), drain the mussels and nest them into the rice. Make sure to cover the pan at this point so that they steam.
Step 7: Taste for final adjustments to seasoning, and then remove from heat. If you rendered the chicken skins from before till crispy, you can add them as toppings to your paella. Finish with chopped parsely and lemon wedges as garnish. Serve Hot.

Like I said, I have no clue what traditional paella tastes like, and in many ways, the recipe for this is similar to that of a risotto. I will say, a risotto is a little bit wetter, while paella can be drier and crispier. I will also be posting two unedited videos from when I cooked this via Facebook Live. You’ll notice that there were times when I added additional liquid into the pan, that’s to prevent burning and to help deglaze the pan. Remember to always taste for seasoning, and to make sure you time the cooking of the different ingredients so that you don’t overcook the seafood, particularly the shrimp and the mussels. As I said, because all the individual ingredients taste really good on their own, the dish truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

This was recorded on Facebook Live, so there’s a lot of dead time.
This was recorded on Facebook Live, so there’s a lot of dead time. This is part II.

Let me know how your cooking goes!

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