Valencian Paella, Cooked on the Fire

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I didn’t think I’d be posting the recipe for paella valenciana, Valencian paella, this early in the life of Mama Ía blog. I don’t know, I thought I had to do a few more simple recipes first, ease into the paella, maybe get you acquainted with the blog, in particular with the section on paella and all the information there that I highly recommend you read before tackling a paella (there are some tips and notes that will be very helpful, and that I highly recommend you read). Not that I think making paella is hard, but I know it can be intimidating to some, particularly if making it for the first time.

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But today was too glorious, one of those wonderful temperature, perfect light, last day of summer, afternoons. As I was standing in the kitchen, I looked outside, and outside called. My boys were playing in the yard, Dave was puttering in the garden, and I had to join them. I had placed a handful of broad white beans in water two days before, so even that step, that you have to do ahead of time, was done.

I make many paellas throughout the year, indoors, on the stove. This would probably be one of my last ones outdoors —I wouldn’t say the last one, the weather in Indiana can be very unpredictable, and we’ll still get very good fall days, beautiful days, with the woods behind our house bursting in reds and oranges.

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Making paellas outdoors is the tradition in my region of Valencia. Families make them on Sundays, the men manning the fire, many times also the paella itself, amidst a festive ambiance. I have fond memories of making them, as a pharmacy student, at the University of Valencia. Every December, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the School of Pharmacy, the courtyard between the school and the cafeteria would be dotted with small groups tending to their paellas, a team effort each one of them, to see who would end up the winner. Of course, each team member would have their own ideas as to what to put in and when, each bragging of their moms’ paella being best.

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Paella valenciana is made with ten basic ingredients. You can omit some of them—I, for instance, don’t add rabbit. Other ingredients are accepted without the paella losing its seal as “paella valenciana” (according to the Council of Agriculture of the Government of Valencia), amongst them are rosemary, duck, snails or artichoke. But you wouldn’t add any other ingredients to paella valenciana, otherwise you would make it a different kind of paella, or a different rice dish all together. Paella takes its name from the pan where it is cooked, called paella (click here for more on the paella pan). However, as we say in Valencia and in the Valencian Community, paella is a rice dish, but not all rice dishes are paellas, even if cooked in a paella pan. I will now debunk another misconception: paella doesn’t have onion. Wait, there’s another one: paella valenciana doesn’t have shellfish (don’t fear: different kinds of seafood paellas will come in future posts).

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Making a paella outdoors is not difficult, but I would suggest that you enlist somebody else, apart from the cook, to tend the fire. My husband Dave is my perfect companion, and we make a good paella-making team. I also suggest that you have all the ingredients handy and at the ready, including the hot stock or water. Also, if you will make the fire on a surface other than soil, you might want to protect the floor or grounds from oil splattering. I spread paper, or newspaper, around the fire pit. You can build the pit on the ground by stacking up some bricks forming a circle, and place the paella on top, about one foot above the ground, so there’s room for the wood to burn (make sure it’s not a “closed” circle, you’ll need to leave some openings to add and stir the wood). Speaking of the fire, you will not cook the paella on embers, but on the flame. Your teammate manning the fire will have to make it stronger or lower at your request. This may sound complicated, but there’s no reason to worry, it’s not difficult, and you’ll get the hang of it. Just make sure you use twigs and small pieces of wood so the fire can be well controlled.

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Something I also feel obliged to warn you of is that the outer bottom of your paella pan —the part that will be in contact with the fire— will become very black, charred. Have paper towels available before placing the paella on a surface, or your table, or when you bring the pan indoors to be washed (in my region of Valencia, many times paella pans are cleaned outdoors). Some people use tricks, like covering the outer bottom of the paella with a mixture of powder detergent and some water, a paste that you will paint the outer bottom with before placing it on the fire pit. I’m not sure this trick works, but I never remember to do it, anyway.

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Another bit of warning, or more than warning, a heads up: you might have seen paellas where the rice looks yellow. I’ve even seen it on illustrations or photos in boxes labeled “Spanish Rice” that you can find at the stores. The color of your paella, if you’ve used real saffron, will be more golden-light brown-dark yellow than bright yellow. Brighter yellow coloring is a sure sign that the saffron was adulterated with other colorings. This will happen most often if you buy powder saffron, since it is more difficult to adulterate saffron threads.

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Click on the links in the recipe for more information about some of the ingredients particular to paella. For your convenience, I’ve put in brackets a good substitution for some them. And again, I recommend you check the paella section on this blog (click here), where you’ll find very useful tips and other curiosities about paella.

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And finally, you must accompany your paella with a good Spanish wine. We had ours with a delightful young Rioja, that made the perfect pairing. A light, simple salad is everything else you need to complete your paella meal.

Now, roll up your sleeves and let’s get cooking!

 

 

VALENCIAN PAELLA

Paella Valenciana

Quantities are for 6 people. Use a 15-16 inch paella pan (click here)

 

Ingredients:
1 chicken, about 3 lb., cut into small pieces
1 cup garrofón (or dried broad white fava-like, or lima, beans)
1 cup broad green beans (or snow peas) cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 green pepper, sliced and chopped into 2-inch strips
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs minced parsley
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1/2 tsp Pimentón de la Vera (or Smoked Spanish paprika)
1 medium tomato, peeled and minced
4 cups Spanish Calasparra or Bomba rice (alternatively, a medium grain rice)
10 cups chicken broth, plus 2 more
2 fresh rosemary sprigs (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges for garnish

 

Two days before: 
Place the white beans in a bowl, cover with water and let sit overnight. Drain and cover again with fresh water, and let sit for another night. After two days of soaking, the beans will have almost doubled in size, and their color turned from mostly white to off-white.

Alternatively, after one day of soaking, drain the beans and place in a saucepan with water to cover by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Remove the beans from the heat, drain and set aside.

In a small pan, toast the saffron threads lightly, crush in a mortar, and dissolve the resulting powder in a little bit of warm water (1-2 ounces).

In a paella pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the hot oil. Brown well on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside, or push it to the edges of the paella (my method of choice).

Add the white broad beans, the broad green beans or snow peas, and the green pepper, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, 6 or 7 minutes. Add a couple more spoonfuls of oil if necessary and add the garlic, parsley and tomato to the hot pan and cook, mixing with the other vegetables, 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the saffron and the pimentón de la Vera or Spanish paprika, stir to mix, and add the rice. Gently stir to coat the rice, mixing all ingredients well together. If using water, at this point add two pinches of salt to the paella and mix —if using chicken stock, do not add any more salt. Raise the heat to high (add more wood to the fire if necessary) and add the 10 cups of hot water or stock to the pan, cupful by cupful, and gently stir, spreading and evenly distributing all the ingredients in the paella—at this point, bring in the pieces of chicken that had been pushed to the edges of the pan and distribute evenly. If using rosemary, add it now as well.

After about 10 minutes, the rice will have started absorbing the liquid. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, without stirring. When the level of the liquid is just below the surface of the rice, reduce the heat to low. After a few minutes, if most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice still looks a bit hard, add more liquid, spoonful by spoonful, until the desired consistency is reached. In all, cooking the rice will take approximately 18 to 20 minutes, no more (from the moment you add the rice).

Remove the paella from the fire and place it on a surface (remember, the bottom of the pan will be charred, so protect the surface where you’ll place it). Cover the paella with paper towels and let sit. After a few minutes, uncover the paella and admire it before digging in. And don’t forget to scrape the socarrat, the lightly charred, crunchy grains of rice that form on the bottom of the paella. Socarrat (literally, burned) it is considered a delicacy by Valencians.

¡Que aproveche!

 

 

 

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