Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cuisine at Home: Paella Mixta (Mixed Spanish Rice)

Since it's so cold and miserable during this time of year in New Jersey, I keep longing for bright, fun dishes. So I finally decided it was time to make the paella recipe that I had been hording for months. Now, I did not use a paella pan because: 1) I'm cheap, 2) I would never use it again, and 3) I'm not sure where I would even find one in my neighborhood. I think the dish turned out beautifully despite the lack of traditional cookware, so feel free to substitute something appropriate, like a really big frying pan.

Of course I had to make a few changes to the recipe.  First, since I hate peas, I left them out. If you like peas, I highly suggest you keep them in, because they add a nice flash of color to the otherwise rather yellow dish. I also skipped the green beans (since I'm a little suspicious of anything fresh offered in New Jersey in the winter), and went with a can of quartered artichoke hearts instead.

The only saffron I was able to find was Spanish saffron (fitting, huh?), but if you can find some from Iran (without getting arrested for violating trade embargoes), it's much nicer and more flavorful. This was also my first time experimenting with live mussels, so that was definitely an adventure. The only chorizo they sell in my grocery store was $17 for eight finger-size links, so I went with kielbasa. Try to use chorizo if you can find it and afford it. I also only used four chicken thighs, but only because that's all I could fit in the pot. For the lean pork, I just bought a boneless pork chop at the butcher section of the grocery store. Also, there is a serious lack of short-grain rice in my area, so I used the medium-grain I brought with me. It seemed fine to me, but don't use long-grain, like Uncle Ben's, or fast-cooking Minute Rice.

Otherwise, I just followed the directions. It was especially fun watching the mussels open as they cooked (although I did feel a twinge of guilt at being their murderer). The dish was flavorful and bright-tasting, especially after a lemon wedge was squeezed on top. It's a lot of work, but definitely worth it.

Paella Mixta (Mixed Spanish Rice)
Adapted from Cuisine at Home magazine, April 2004

Pinch saffron (20–30 threads)
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
Shrimp shells from ½ pound large or jumbo shrimp
16 green-lipped mussels, cleaned
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, seasoned with salt
½ pound kielbasa, sliced
½ pound large or jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined
1½ cups yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
1½ cups raw medium-grain rice
½ cup tomato, seeded, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toast saffron in a large sauté pan over medium heat until slightly darkened.  Add broth, wine, bay leaves, and shrimp shells; boil 3 minutes.  Add mussels to boiling broth; cover and steam until mussels open, 5–8 minutes. Transfer mussels to a bowl, discarding those that do not open. Strain broth and keep warm over low heat.

Sauté chicken in olive oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook until brown on both sides, about 8 minutes (do not cook through); remove. Add kielbasa; sauté until brown, 3 minutes, then remove. Add shrimp and cook until just cooked through, 4 minutes; remove. Sauté onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, until they brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Stir in rice to coat with oil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2–3 minutes.

Add tomato and garlic; cook until garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in warm strained broth, then add the
browned chicken and sausage. Cook, uncovered, over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes; the liquid should be at a low boil. Don’t stir the rice anymore - it may turn starchy. Transfer pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, another 15 minutes, or until rice is tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and check for the socarrat - if it hasn’t formed, place the pan over a low burner. Top paella with reserved seafood; sprinkle with the peas. Cover pan for 5 minutes with a lid or foil to warm seafood through.

Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Makes 8 servings

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