Sunday, October 12, 2014


Across the world, there are many practical rice/meat/seafood dishes.  In South America there is arroz con pollo. In Italy, Risotto (when we were in Venice, we ate risotto with LOTS of seafood!).  In South Asia, Biryani, usually served with chicken or lamb. In New Orleans, it's Jambalaya which has its roots in the Spanish dish, Paella, and is what we enjoyed devoured at A.’s house last week.

If you search the dictionary, the definition of Paella is: pa·el·la / päˈāyä / pəˈelə.  Noun. A Spanish dish of rice, saffron, chicken, seafood, etc., cooked and served in a large shallow pan.   Like what you see right up there...a little to the left.

Mouth-watering, right? 

Paella is a wonderful combination of rice, herbs, meat, seafood that is so incredibly satisfying and generally enjoyed by anyone who consumes it.  Because it is easy to make in large quantities, it’s a favorite to serve at large dinner parties.  I remember once when M. served it to her students at a holiday gathering and I recall thinking, what a fast, fancy and fabulous meal to serve to a group of students who, no doubt, are simply ecstatic about being dished a home cooked dinner, let alone paella!

Well, let me just tell you, we were just as ecstatic.  A.’s version did not include shrimp or mussels, but we didn’t miss the crustaceans because the chicken thighs and chorizo sausage executed beautifully.  One signature ingredient in any paella dish is saffron and its vibrant, golden hue is what makes the dish glow.  Many recipes call to prepare the dish in a paella pan, but any wide, shallow sauté pan with a lid will do (according to Martha who knows about these things).   

Here’s a little $260 number from a major cooking retailer:
It's a nice pan, but I agree with Martha.

Let’s talk about saffron for a minute…. Saffron is an expensive and frugally used spice, but what it does to food is totally transformative.  The gilded threads come from the stigma of the saffron (violet) crocus, a flower that thrives in hot, dry Mediterranean climates.  The strength of the spice depends on how the flower is harvested and the parts of the plant included when the spice is produced.  

Typically, only three threads are hand-picked from each flower and 7500 flowers are needed to produce one pound of saffron! Wikipedia says that “saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet.”  In addition to being used extensively in Spanish, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, it is also used as a fabric dye….a very expensive fabric dye. 
I won't be using saffron to tie-dye any tee shirts, but you can listen to Donovan sing about saffron here!

Fire and Rice

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
2 links Spanish chorizo, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium tomatoes, grated using a box grater
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
1 large pinch Spanish saffron threads, crumbled
2 cups paella rice
Salt, to taste
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock

For serving:
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 lemons cut into wedges (optional)

Season the chicken with salt and allow it to come to room temperature. Brush a hot pan with some olive oil. Place the chicken skin-side-down in the hot pan and cover.  Cook until the chicken is golden brown and almost cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a sheet tray and set aside.

Place a 15-inch paella pan on the stove. Once the pan is hot, add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo starts to brown and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove the chorizo using tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring often until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. If the pan seems dry, add the remaining olive oil. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid has reduced and the vegetables have completely softened and melded together, about 12 minutes. Add chorizo back to the pan with the paprika and saffron and cook until fragrant, about a minute.

Add the rice and season with salt. Cook for 1 minute with the chorizo mixture. Add the stock, stir to combine and bring to a rapid boil. Bury the chicken thighs skin-side-up in the rice and cook, making sure not to stir from this point on, until the rice is tender but still al dente and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes.  To serve, sprinkle parsley over the paella and serve with lemon wedges.

A. served the paella with crusty bread and roasted root vegetables.  It’s always my turn to bring wine when we have dinner at her house and, not knowing we were having paella, I contributed a ruby-red Spanish Rioja.  Kismet.   

While eating dessert (A. let us sample the apple biscuits she made for her co-workers), we watched a bit of The Voice…our guilty pleasure.

Photo of paella pan from and crocus plant from

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