Paella is one of the definitive examples of Spanish cuisine and one that very few people here know about. It's hard to find on restaurant menus and even harder to find one that brings out the complex flavors of the ingredients while maintaining the textural integrity of what is basically a simple rice dish. We've been experimenting with it for several years and, with apologies to my Spanish friends, we think we've got a pretty good version going here.
It starts with great ingredients like Fra' Mani's Spanish-style chorizo, smoked paprika, green olives from Spain that are stuffed with anchovies (known as "crack olives" around here because you simply can't stop yourself from eating handfuls of them), saffron and fresh seafood. Plus some chicken thighs, a rich stock, arborio or bomba rice, colorful peppers and the essential onions and garlic.
While Dave is busy lighting the grill, I'm in the kitchen chopping vegetables and steeping the saffron in a dry white wine to soften it and bring out its amazing flavor and color. And when the fire's ready and we've got a nice bed of hot coals, it's just a matter of putting the paella pan on the grill, sautéing the vegetables in a bit of olive oil, adding the chicken to brown and then the chorizo to warm it up and frying the rice for a couple of minutes. Then pour in the stock, add the olives and cover it with the lid of the grill to let that wonderful smoke infuse the dish. A few minutes before serving we add mussels or clams hinge-side down and let them cook briefly, and it's done.
A challenge we've been working on lately is to achieve a good carmelized bottom crust, known as the socarrat. The trick seems to be in getting just the right ratio of stock to rice, so the rice softens but maintains a slight crunch while being dry enough to form that crust and yet not burn from the heat of the coals.
We love paella for dinner parties because it feeds a crowd and is fun to bring to the table and serve from its pan. Plus you don't really need anything else with it except maybe a simple green salad and some full-bodied, earthy red wine. If you're interested in trying it yourself, you can download a recipe here.
Details: Chorizo, rice and olives available at Foster & Dobbs; olives also available in large (1.5 lb.) cans at City Market on NW 21st; smoked paprika available at New Seasons.