If there's one thing you need to eat in Spain, it's paella. And that's exactly what I planned to do once I got to Valencia during my recent trip to Europe -- eat all the paella I could get my hands on. After all, paella originated in Valencia; hence the fact that most recipes call for Valencia rice, a short-grain white rice from the same area.
Unfortunately, my trip to Valencia succumbed to the whims of the mercurial travel gods, and I ended up spending an entire week in Barcelona instead. Not one to be dissuaded from my dream meal, I was determined to have my paella anyways, even if it could only be had a few hours north of where it originated. I set about the gorgeous city of Barcelona to find the perfect place to eat, but noticed a problem right away: many different restaurants had these funny signs with ten or so photos of paella, all labeled with a brand name: Paellador. Others had a difference brand, Paella Maxima. As one who likes my food so fresh that it would almost be breathing, my foodie-tuned spidey sense went off.
After a little digging, it turns out that these are pre-fab frozen paella companies. Restaurants buy the dishes frozen, then heat up the paella to serve to customers, who think they're getting the real thing. Um, no. No. Great big capital NO. Frozen paella? In Spain? Are you kidding me?
I polled the staff of a few restaurants and eventually turned up a handful of places that served fresh paella. I ate at three or four of them, and indeed the dishes they served were freshly made with some of the finest seafood the Aegean sea has to offer. I never did try the frozen paella, and you know what? I never will. Yikes.
For those of you not currently cooling your heels in Barcelona, I recommend making paella at home. It's a very simple dish to make, and the ingredients are easy to rustle up. If you're in the East Bay or near Mill Valley, I highly recommend making the short trek down to your local Spanish Table shop, where they not only stock Iberian imported foods, but they can also school you in the magical ways of paella making and recommend a Spanish wine to pair with your meat selection. Can you say staycation?
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 chicken legs
- 2 chicken wings
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups Valencia rice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper pepper
- 8 small fresh clams, scrubbed and clean
- 8 small fresh mussels, scrubbed and clean
- Stir saffron into chicken stock; set aside.
- In large, wide skillet or paella pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken to pan and cook until browned, 7 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
- Add onion and garlic to pan and cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add stock to pan along with tomatoes and bring to boil. Scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan.
- Stir in rice, salt and pepper. Add chicken again and simmer gently over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring only occasionally.
- Examine shellfish to make sure they are clean. Throw away any that do not tighten closed when tapped. Nestle clams and mussels into rice until almost covered by rice and broth. Continue cooking over low heat until rice is tender and all shellfish open, about 7 to 10 minutes. Throw away any clams or mussels that do not open. Serve hot.
Culinary Tradition: Spanish