Festive Alternatives for Holiday Entertaining
PAELLA! Valencia’s gorgeous contribution to the culinary narrative of great food; rustic, hearty, colorful, festive, and intoxicatingly redolent with the aromas of land and sea along the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Paella is sure to transform any gathering together for a meal into a veritable feast!
Paella’s regional traditions are closely adhered to in Spain and a Paella Mixta is generally considered a new world aberration, but believe me when I say this is a dish that begs for adaptations, including meats, game, poultry, seafood, and seasonal local produce. With the basic cooking procedures mastered, cooking paella becomes second nature and certainly a worthy centerpiece for a holiday meal.
Rice is the foundation of this dish and I strongly urge you to seek out Bamba rice, cultivated along the Mediterranean coasts of Valencia and Murcia. It is less starchy than long grain rice and absorbs flavors beautifully while retaining a distinctive al dente bite. Arborio rice would be the preferred substitution if Bamba rice is unavailable.
Paella Mixta with Chicken, Sausage, Fish, and Shrimp: serves 4-6
Pan: A paella pan is the best option for producing authentic crusty paella, but if you don’t have one a large stainless steel skillet with oven safe handle will do nicely as I have used.
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons broad leaf parsley, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed Spanish saffron threads
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Combine the ingredients in a mortar and mash into smooth paste.
- 4 chicken legs and thighs (skin on), cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound seasoned sausage (Spanish Chorizo frescas, or a local sausage (in my case, Chiang Mai sausage), sliced into bite size pieces diagonally
- 8 to 12 large whole shrimp, shell on
- 1/2 pound firm white fish, cubed
- 8 cups chicken or seafood stock, heated to a simmer
- 1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded, pith removed and diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, pith removed and diced
- 1-2 fresh green chilies, seeded and diced (optional)
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, center pith removed and diced
- 2 cups Bamba or Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup Spanish sherry
- lemon wedges
- flat leaf parsley sprigs
Preheat oven to 450F/230C
Place the paella pan or skillet over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook until browned on all sides until partially cooked. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Add the sausage to the skillet and brown on all sides until partially cooked. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook very briefly on each side just until the shells turn pink and barely cooked. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Likewise, add the fish to the skillet and sear very briefly. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and add the onions, peppers, and chilies if using. Saute for several minutes until softened. Add the tomatoes and saute an additional minute. Add the seasoning paste to the skillet and saute, mixing the paste into the mixture completely.
Add the rice to the skillet and stir in the pan ingredients and cook for several minutes until the rice begins to stick to the bottom of the skillet. Add 2 cups of the stock and cook until nearly absorbed. Add another 2 cups of stock and continue to cook until nearly absorbed. Add the sherry and cook until absorbed. Add the chicken and sausage, pushing it down into the rice and then add enough stock to fill the pan, about 2 cups. Bring to a boil and cook several minutes. At this point taste the rice and the broth to determine to what point the rice has been cooked. It should still be quite firm. Add salt if needed and additional stock if the rice is looking dry.
Immediately transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the fish, pushing it down into the rice and place the shrimp arranged over the top of the rice. Return the skillet to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the top of the paella is just beginning to crisp on the surface. Remove from the oven immediately and, as we are using a skillet rather than a paella pan, place the skillet over a high flame loosely covered with foil and crisp the rice in the bottom of the pan as if it had been cooked in a paella pan. The crusty rice in the bottom of the pan is the prized part of eating traditional paella!
A word of warning! Be sure to remember that the skillet handle is scorching hot when it comes out of the oven, so do not mindlessly grab the handle without a hot pad, as I have done in the past when rushing to get the Paella to the table!!!
Garnish the top of the paella with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs and bring the skillet to the table for casual country style presentation as it is traditionally served in Spain!