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Before and After: Paella

As you may or may not know by now, I have a great love for everything Spanish. After living there for two years the culture, way of thinking, and most importantly, food practices have become ingrained in me. When I returned from Spain, my grandfather invited me to his house to make a Spanish rice dish, commonly known as paella. With my Spanish spices and olive oil in hand, I set out to make my first arroz on American soil. Unfortunately, the rice turned out far from what I had expected, it was mushy and lacked the correct texture, consistency, and color of true Spanish paella. I added too much broth, and the rice turned out more like a seafood risotto rather than a Spanish arroz. However, a failure in the kitchen only made me more determined to master said dish, and I became obsessed with arroz. I researched recipes in both Spanish and English, purchased authentic Spanish paella rice, and practiced rice recipe after rice recipe until I finally had a paella I was happy with!

As you can see from the before picture (above) the rice is too yellow, appears mushy, and lacks a solid form of presentation. The rice in the after picture (below) is more appetizing in color and presentation and you can identify the ingredients. I realized the importance of using a large saute pan (after) instead of a large soup one (before). In Spain they have special super flat wide pans specially for making paella (if anyone wants to send me one, I would be so happy!).

I hope you see my before and after as a source of inspiration: if a recipe doesn't come out as planned take a deep breath and remember that cooking, like all skills, perfects with time, experience, and practice. Sometimes it does get frustrating and difficult (I practically had a heart attack when my gravy didn't thicken during Thanksgiving and actually cried one night when my chewy chocolate cookies came out like burnt crispy crackers), but keep at it and you'll discover how rewarding and relaxing making a meal can truly be. For my ultimate paella recipe,

Modified from Javi Navarro Rivas

1/4 cup Spanish olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1.5 teaspoons pimentón or sweet paprika
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 lb pork, cut into small pieces
1/4 lb chicken, cut into small pieces
2 chorizo, cut into 1/4 inch slices
12 shrimp, shells peeled off
1.5 cups Spanish rice
1/2 cup pimentos (jarred roasted red peppers)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Salt, pepper

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Add the saffron and set aside 5 minutes to steep.
  2. In the largest saute pan you have (or a paella pan) heat oil over medium heat.
  3. Add the onion and green pepper. Saute about 5 minutes until soft.
  4. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add tomatoes. With a fork begin mashing the tomatoes while sauteing. Season with salt.
  5. Add the pork, chicken, and chorizo to the pan. Cook stirring with a wooden spoon until meat is lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the bay leaves.
  7. Preheat oven to 350°.
  8. Add the rice and stir to combine for a minute allowing rice to toast.
  9. Pour in white wine, simmer and stir for about 3 minutes.
  10. Add the pimentón, salt, and pepper.
  11. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Pour the stock into the pan, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  12. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  13. Remove from heat. Scatter shrimp over mixture. Place pan in oven and bake paella, uncovered, 15 minutes.
  14. Sprinkle pimentos and olives over. Continue to bake until broth is absorbed and rice is tender about 5 minutes longer.
  15. Remove from oven and cover. Let stand 5 minutes.
  16. Sprinkle parsley over the top and serve.

Serves 4.

Substitute: Italian arborio rice (the kind you would use to make risotto) for Spanish rice

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