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Thursday, 16 September 2010

PAELLA - tried for you....!




Paella is known to almost everyone, and started off life as a "peasant's" dish - use a bit of everything you've got! 
It is now so popular that, with me at least, it is no longer popular, because it's dished up in summer at ALL occasions, generally badly prepared and barely edible. Even in Spain, it's difficult to find a really good one, without going to visit a "peasant" - something I love doing anyway, the food is invariably better than in the "best " restaurants, and considerably cheaper. 
Paella is NOT one of those classic dishes which is even better - warmed up the following day. It doesn't really warm up very well at all, which was, partly, what interested me in the "ready-made" versions.
It so happens that this season, times being tight, "Paella" didn't appear on Garden party menus as much as usual, being sacrificed for a grilled chicken or grilled sausages.
This gave me the chance to try, for you, various "preparations" called "Paella" available here in Europe, in frozen, tinned, dried versions - inexpensive and most of them inedible! Paella is NOT one of those classic dishes which is even better - warmed up the following day. It doesn't really warm up very well at all, which was, partly, what interested me in the "ready-made" versions.
The versions dried, tinned are to be ignored. They have nothing to do with the dish, except that they mix up various strange tastes and concoctions! Best thing to do with them is not to buy them, but if you have, blend everything down to a sort of "rice-soup" and then throw it in the bin...!
I tried 3 varieties of "frozen" paella, and only one approached remotely the real thing. It was the cheapest and came from the Supermarket chain "LIDL", here in Europe.
It actually tasted of fish, and although the chicken content required adding some chicken drumsticks etc., and more mussels, fish, and particularly prawns/crevettes were also required (the original ones being so dry as to have only one purpose - decoration) for the price, it was very edible!
It took only 8 minutes to cook from the frozen state, the rice was long grain, and nicely moist.
If you - like me - tend to be at most 1 or two at table, this thing is eminently usable, but like all the "pre-prepared" dishes, it's not just a question of "warming them up" - you've got to "dress them up" as well - arrange them to suit your needs.
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So you know what the REAL thing is, here is a little (!) article:


So - let's get a few basics down first of all! I suggest you read through, and THEN decide the order of the day....
 PAELLA is a Spanish dish, more exactly a Spanish pan, because the dish takes its name from the word for "pan" in Spanish! Rather like the new cuisine word "pan-fry" or "stir-fry" the original word describes an article in the Kitchen rather than a dish. I have a "paella" even larger than the one in the image (they come in an enormous variety of sizes) but I haven't used it for years, because it needs outdoor use!
Having said that, the word "Paella" is accepted world wide as being a dish which vaguely associates fish, shellfish, meat, rice, green peas, saffron and onions.
The Spanish, for example, will go off on public holidays or weekends in their cars, somewhere in the countryside, they will collect twigs, branches and end up with a forest fire, on which they delicately place the "paella" (the pan).
METHOD:  In goes Olive oil, loads and loads of chopped onions and garlic which are fried, without colouring. When tender, this is called a "sofrito", and is the basis for thousands of Spanish recipes. 
For a "paella" and for most other rice dishes, another very important ingredient is necessary "SAFFRAN".
Saffran is a spice/seasoning made from the pollen of certain crocus flowers  VERY expensive (at the moment, 1 kilo of Saffran comes in at around 35,000Euros (yes - around 43,000$), this image dates some years, and is the Euro price for 1 gramm..........   Happily we don't need a lot, and it is sold normally in little round plastic "doses" (still expensive, but good). There ARE substitutes, and don't hesitate to use them, they are relatively inexpensive, they will give the golden yellow colour wished for, but they won't give the saffron taste - small price to keep your Bank manager happy....!
Into the "paella/sofrito" goes the expensive Saffran, or its substitute and stirred through to give the typical colouring which will now pass to the other ingredients and the rice, giving an agreeable appearance to everything. 
Those articles which require the longest cooking time go in first. 
Generally the chicken, sometimes raw diced breast meat, sometimes the upper thigh and drumsticks, sometimes all three. Maybe some diced raw pork as well....
Now things get complicated, because in the nature of a "collective noun", a Paella (the dish, not the pan) has literally thousands of versions. 
Basically every true Spaniard has his own "family" recipe, often associated with the area he lives in. Of course the fact that a Paella is generally cooked outdoors, makes it even more agreeable, because it is associated with lazy summer days, but it can be done indoors, just in smaller quantities.
The two well known ones, for example, are "Valencienne", which contains more fish and shellfish items than meat, due to it's close proximity to the sea, and the "Paella Madrilene" which contains more meat than fish, in the form of chicken, "chorizo" (very peppery Spanish sausage), pork and generally just about anything else! 
Octopus, squid etc., can also be used, cut into strips. I don't use them personally, for they are often "rubbery", and I prefer to cook them in a different fashion.
Get the idea?
The order is important, because if, for example, you put the fish, prawns and mussels in now, they will be so overcooked at the end of the (roughly) one hour's cooking time that they won't be edible!
To continue - the longer cooking items are inserted to the "sofrito" and are sealed (seized over heat to avoid the juices being lost and the meat becoming drier). One after the other add your choices, 
DO NOT (I repeat) at this stage, add the white fish or the shellfish or the green peas or the green haricot "runner/prinzess" beans!They will otherwise be overcooked.
Now it's time to add the principle ingredient - the rice. There are arguments saying that "round" rice must be used, and others saying "long" rice...! I personally use "long" rice because I find it holds better, but - once again - it's origins are Geographical. Use whichever you wish. Just be aware that the round rice risks to "clump" more.
Now comes a very important part. You should have (I forgot to tell you) prepared a "stock" in advance, preferably a fish stock, or "fumet de poisson" using the bones, skins other "debris" of plaice, sole, cod and any other white fish (normally your fishmonger will be able to supply these cheaply or even for free) but a "fumet de poisson" can be purchased in powder or cube form, just check the salt quantity used and adjust other seasoning accordingly.
If you don't have access to this, you can use a veal stock, also available ready made. The important point is that it must not contain tomatoes or tomatoe pastes etc.
This stock is now poured over the sofrito, the meat and the rice, just sufficiently to cover lightly the contents of the paella. At this point, you stir, and this is the only moment in the whole procedure that you stir at all, season (bearing in mind that a reduction in the liquid quantity will happen in cooking and depending on what type of stock you used), making sure that the ingredients are covered and as evenly spread in the pan, as possible.
After this moment, do NOT stir a paella dish. 
The same thing applies in principle to all  savoury rice dishes (apart from simple boiled rice, which you should rinse in cold water once cooked anyway...!) 
This is to avoid the breaking up of the rice.
The force of cooking should be medium to moderate, often difficult if you're cooking outdoors, but pulling the pan to one side - then another, of the open fire, allows you to control the heat to an extent.
In fact, there are many people who prefer to wait until the paella is eaten to scrape the "burnt" crusts from the bottom of the pan - they adore it! 
Indoors, it is much more simple, or if you're lucky enough to have a gas "trident" for outdoors - great! This is a typical Spanish one:
All you have to do now is leave it to cook, around 1 hour (often less - prick the longest cooking pieces with a fork to test, and taste a little rice for tenderness - sounds like a love song.....!).
Whilst waiting (oh no - you're not finished, yet) prepare the mussels, the gambas or shrimps/crevettes, and some pieces of a firm white fish, preferably in "darnes" (thicker pieces with a central bone), such as this:
Do NOT use "oily" fish: 
Herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and so on are NOT appropriate. 
Prepare the peas and the green beans if you are using them. 
Also cut lemon wedges, as many as to decorate the side of the paella sufficiently, but with at least sufficient for the number of people eating (same principle for the quantity of other ingredients - enough for equal parts for everybody! Spain is now a Democratic country....)
After roughly 30-35 minutes cooking, lay the fish and shell fish items delicately on the top of the other ingredients in the paella, throw in your peas and/or beans, and at this moment, try to cover the whole thing either with aluminium foil or with a lid. The idea is to allow the fish and vegetable to cook slowly "under steam/vapour" whilst giving their juices to the dish. 
They will be tastier, more tender, but cooked!
When the cooking is achieved - that means when you lift the cover off and you see that the mussels have opened, that the fish is cooked through - you've pricked the chicken and it's cooked - you've tasted the rice, and it's cooked as well.... 
YOU"RE READY .............. Congratulations!
At this moment, you can pull the whole thing to one side, or cut the heat source completely, cover again, and leave it for around 15 minutes, while you finish your "umpteenth aperatif" or arrange the wine (always a dry white one, please, ice cold - or of course Champagne!). This "rest" period allows the subtle flavours to intermingle with each other - they're not racist....!
Finally all you have to do is uncover, decorate with the lemon wedges (with the pips taken out, please, please) possibly some small,  dressed, sprigs of parsley (I like the curly type, it's less pungent in taste and more pleasing to the eye)


AND NOW.................


          Bonne Appetit!


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iwmpop(mrlemarquis)         -     Vauvert, France        -       Septembre 2010.



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