Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.
Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.
Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.
For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!
Paella Mixta: serves 12
Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).
As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.
Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)
- 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
- 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
- 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
- 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
- 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
- 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
- 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
- 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
- 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
- 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
- 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
- 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
- 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
- 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- fresh lemon wedges
- aioli, (recipe below)
Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.
Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.
Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.
Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.
Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c
At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.
Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to
color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.
Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.
Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.
With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.
Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.
Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.
Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.
At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.
Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.
If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.
Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.
Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.
Aioli: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.
With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
I am hoping to dispel any misgivings you may harbor from uninspired encounters with tuna burgers that you may have had in your past.
But Canned tuna fish cakes?
Well, as the old English saying goes “penny wise and pound foolish.” Erring on the side of thrift in this case has its surprising rewards. Yes of course you could go out and spend a small fortune for the finest fresh tuna that money could buy. But, with a dash of know how and a pinch of tempered seasonings, a can of tuna can be transformed into beautifully light fish cakes that are every bit as beguiling as fresh tuna cakes or, for that matter, fresh crab cakes at a fraction of the cost.
These tuna cakes, topped with a horseradish sauce and crisp watercress, are wonderful just as are, or try them tucked into a toasted bun for a light and zesty sandwich.
Tuna Fish Cakes: makes 6
- 2 cans chunk white tuna packed in spring water
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1/3 cup finely diced celery
- 3-4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leaf parsley
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 large organic egg
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- pinch of cayenne
- 1¼ cups bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- rolls, lightly toasted (if making sandwiches)
- several hands full of fresh crisp watercress
- lemon wedges
Carefully remove the tuna from the cans without breaking it up too much and place in a colander. Drain well and transfer the tuna to a mixing bowl.
Add the shallots, celery, capers, and parsley to the bowl and gently fold the ingredients together.
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice and whisk together until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the tuna mixture and fold it in until well combined. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the bread crumbs over the surface.
In another small bowl combine the egg, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), and the cayenne and whisk together until smooth. Spoon over the tuna mixture and fold in until evenly combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Spread the remaining bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
With the tuna mixture well chilled, fill a 1/3 cup measure with the tuna mixture and place the mixture in the palms of your hands. Gently form it into a 2 ½ inch round cake about ¾ inch in thickness without compressing any more than is necessary for the cake to just hold together.
Gently blot the cake with a paper towel and then dredge the cake in the bread crumbs to coat evenly. Gently pat the crumbs onto the surface of the cake and transfer it to a parchment lined tray.
Make the remaining tuna cakes and cover the tray with cling film. Refrigerator for 30 minutes or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Place a medium size heavy bottomed non stick skillet over medium low flame on the stove top. When hot add the butter and oil oil and swirl the pan. When the fat starts to bubble gently place 3 cakes in the pan without crowding and brown for 2 to 2 ½ minutes. The cakes will seem quite delicate but they will firm up a bit once they have browned. Very gently turn the cakes over and brown another 2 ½ minutes. Transfer the cakes to a baking tray and set aside.
Brown the reaming three cakes, place them on the baking tray.
Transfer the tray to the preheated oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cakes should be nicely browned and just slightly firm to the touch. Do not over bake!
Transfer the cakes straight out of the oven to a platter or individual plates. Top with the sauce and generously garnish with crisp watercress and lemon wedges to the side.
If you are making sandwiches, have the rolls halved and lightly toasted. Spread a little sauce on the bottom half of the roll. Place the tuna cake in the center. Top with a nice dollop of sauce and a generous bunch of watercress. Serve with the top of the bun ajar. Spritz with a little lemon juice, adjust the top of the bun over all and dig in!
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1½ to 2 tablespoons horseradish
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
You might also like to try Maryland Crab Cakes (see recipe here)
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about ways to cook salmon to serve on a bed of spinach when, out of the blue, kulebiak popped into my head. Kulebiak, a Polish pastry filled with fish and cabbage, was a go to solution for many a dinner party in my catering days, but it had somehow fallen off my radar, but thankfully not forgotten! I was really excited to get into the kitchen and revisit this old Polish favorite.
Kulebiak is a traditional dish rooted in the Slavic countries with variations in each region. Essentially a pastry dough filled with fish (salmon or sturgeon) or meats along with cabbage or sauerkraut. Other accompaniments that may be included are mushrooms, herbs, rice, or potatoes.
For cooks and hosts alike Kulebiak is is a main course solution that can be prepared in advance and baked off just before serving. All of kulebiak’s savory goodness will be revealed for your guests with the stroke of a fork!
Following traditions, the recipe that follows sticks to the simple paring of salmon and cabbage in puff pastry served with a lemony sour cream sauce. Be that as it is, feel free to try other combinations. The possibilities are endless for this easy entertaining solution.
Salmon and cabbage Kulebiak serves 4
As there are several steps for this recipe it would be best to read through the entire recipe before you begin preparations.
Preparing a broth for blanching the cabbage:
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup gin or vodka
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- several sprigs of celery with leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 juniper berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Place all the ingredients for the broth in wide sauce pan or skillet that has a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare the cabbage leaves for blanching.
Preparing the cabbage:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- blanching broth
Slice off the stem of the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves and discard. Begin removing the leaves being careful to keep the leaves intact. Once all the leaves are separated, using a sharp knife, remove the center rib of each leaf at the stem end and discard.
Bring the prepared broth back to a rolling boil and promptly add the cabbage leaves to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cabbage leaves are soft, pliable, and translucent. Carefully remove the leaves from the pan and spread them out on a kitchen towel to dry. Set the broth aside and when cool strain. Discard the solids, and reserve the clear broth to season the sauce.
Preparing the salmon:
- 20 oz side of salmon, skinless and boneless
- prepared blanched cabbage leaves
- ½ cup freshly chopped dill leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- sheets of butter puff pastry, thawed
Slice the side of salmon into 4 equal portions approximately 5 ounces each. With a very sharp knife in hand place the palm of your other hand on top of the salmon fillet lengthwise. Horizontally slice the salmon fillet lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips. Stack the strips and set aside. Follow the same procedure for the remaining salmon fillets.
Working with one portion at a time, place a slice of salmon in the center of a cabbage leaf, stem to stern. Scatter the top with dill and season very lightly with salt and a twist of pepper. Wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon to enclose it in the leaf.
Continuing, drape another cabbage leaf over the first cabbage wrapped layer. Place another slice of salmon in the center, add dill and salt and pepper, and again wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon. Repeat the same procedure with the remaining salmon strips, stacking one layer on top of another.
Then place two cabbage leaves overlapping on your work surface and place a stacked bundle of salmon in cabbage leaves in the center. Wrap the left side cabbage leaf over the stack and tuck under the stack, Then do the same with the right cabbage leaf. Place on a tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate.
Place a sheet of cold puff pastry dough on your work surface and cut out a rectangle or oval shape about ½ inch larger than the stacked bundles of salmon and cabbage. Cut a second piece of puff pastry dough about an ¾ of an inch larger than the bottom layer and place on a tray. Cut the remaining pieces of puff pastry and transfer the tray to the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the kulebiak for baking.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c. Have ready a baking tray lined with parchment.
Prepare and egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Whisk the egg and milk together and set aside.
Working with one portion at a time, place the smaller piece of puff pastry on the baking tray lined with parchment and place a salmon bundle in the center. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash. Then center and drape the larger piece of puff over the bundle of salmon and align the top and bottom edges of the puff pastry and press to seal. You can then crimp the edges by folding the dough over itself, like you would when making empanadas, or simply crimp with a fork. Repeat the same process for the remaining portions.
Return the kulebiak to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake bush the surface of each kulebiak with egg wash and slice a small opening in the center top to vent steam while baking.
Promptly transfer the tray to the oven and bake about 25 minutes. The surface of the pastry should be nicely golden browned when finished.
While the kulebiak is baking you can prepare the sauce.
Preparing the sauce:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cooled broth or to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate the sauce if not using immediately.
Remove the kulebiak from the oven. Lightly dust the tops of each with paprika and serve along with a pool of sauce to the side on each serving plate.
Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.
As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.
Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.
Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.
Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.
Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!
This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.
To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!
The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.
Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts
- 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
- 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
- 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes
Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.
You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.
Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.
Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.
The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.
Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.
Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.
Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4
- 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
- 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
- ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
- Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.
Heat the dashi to a near boil.
Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.
If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.
Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.
Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.
Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve. Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table.