The summer of 2016 will go down in the annals of history as “The Summer of Paella.” And by “annals of history” of course I mean just in my own head.
Nonetheless, in a nostalgic summer-of-’69 kind of way, whenever I look back at the summer of ’16, I will always remember my love affair with paella.
It all started back in the spring. I spent quite a bit of time annoying my wife with my constant chatter about making paella. I spent countless hours researching the perfect paella only to find out that there are as many variations of paella as there are individuals claiming that theirs is the best. Not surprisingly, there were many great Spanish chefs featured in noteworthy publications. But Spain did not have a monopoly on paella masters. I found Bobby Flay’s twist on paella (grilled-style), a perfect foundation for me to build my own.
First thing I learned: it’s all about the pan. Seriously – don’t even attempt this dish without a good paella pan. After all, the word paella comes from the Latin patella which means “pan.” I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma. It was actually crafted in Valencia, Spain (the birth place of paella), and I love it. I highly recommend it.
Making paella is like orchestrating a play production. The actors have to be well choreographed and each must play a specific role in the dish. I made paella several times this summer, and I quickly figured out that it’s like making many mini dishes, and then putting them all together at the end. Timing is really important.
Short-grain rice – I’m lucky to have a Wegmans supermaket minutes away with an amazing variety of international foods, so I went exploring. After testing a few, I found the Bomba Calaspara Rice to be just perfect. This rice doesn’t get creamy like a risotto would, which is great because you don’t want to end up with a mushy paella.
Saffron – the king of spices! Pricey but don’t skimp. It really makes a difference. I added mine to my chicken stock which is also the stock that I used to steam the clams and mussels, which then added their own flavor to the stock, creating an exquisite chicken-saffron-clams-and-mussels broth, exploding with flavor. This awesome mixture then becomes the base for making the rice (risotto-style: one cup at a time).
Colossal shrimp – I bypassed the jumbo shrimp and went straight to colossal! These beauties marinated in some extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper and garlic, and after hitting the hot grill for a few minutes had beautiful grill marks.
Chicken – Since I was making this entire dish on the grill, I opted against boneless breasts (they dry up too quickly). My chicken breasts soaked in a full bottle of Goya‘s Mojo Criollo overnight. If you know mojo, then you are probably saying “wow” right now.
Chorizo – Good old Spanish chorizo. When cut up in pieces and browned with some onion and garlic, it lets out a great aroma as all the saffron in the chorizo just seems to wake up and ooze onto the pan. I’m actually smelling it in my head as I type.
Clams and Mussels – Well cleaned and steamed briefly in the saffron and chicken goodness – just enough until they pop open.
Pimentos – not just for decoration; they add great flavor too.
After all the actors are in place and the play is in full swing, I let the pan sit on the grill until it forms the traditional soccorat (that’s when the rice sitting at the bottom of the paella crisps up slightly giving it a great crunchy texture).
Wow. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Next time I listen to Brian Adams reminisce on his summer of ’69, I think I’ll day dream of my summer of ’16 and my summer love affair with paella.