Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seafood Paella a la Jose Andres via Kim O'Donnell

I love reading the food blog A Mighty Appetite by Kim O'Donnell on the Washington Post's website. Kim has a relaxed writing style that makes me feel like I'm hearing a story as told by my cool cousin. She's not as familiar as a sibling, but we know each other well and she's always doing really cool stuff and has great stories to tell. On Tuesdays, she hosts a weekly What's Cooking? web chat on the Post's website in which people write in with food related questions. I really feel a part of an online community by commenting on her blog and posting questions in her chats. Especially when she actually answers a question of mine, I really feel a kinship. I've weighed in recently on how to make polenta as well as what kitchen essentials a bride should register for.

Her blog the other day was about paella, arguably Spain's most famous dish. I'd only made it once before after I'd bought my supremely versatile Le Creuset casserole from TJ Maxx and hadn't attempted it since. I remember making it on a Sunday and it stretched into a time consuming kitchen adventure, the kind where people are sitting around wondering, "Why isn't it ready yet? Does he know what he's doing?" Incidentally, you may be tempted to think you need a "paella pan" to make this dish, but this is just not so. Tyler Florence has said that he uses his roasting pan--the one that most of us only dust off for the Thanksgiving turkey--when he's making paella for a crowd (which is what I will use when preparing this dish for company, as I look forward to doing soon). And I was served paella in Miami in a cast iron skillet, so any of your favorite, wide saute pans is a good choice. (I will admit that I bought my LC pan envisioning paella but this pan is well worth its cost and has become one of my most versatile kitchen pieces. I use it regularly for braising, poaching, sauteing, roasting, etc., even though at this point it's only been used for paella twice.)

Kim's recipe, appropriated from mega-chef Jose Andres (his restaurants include DC hotspots Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, and Zaitinya) is simple enough even for a weeknight if you're not overly carnivorous. Besides, I'd been wanting to try making paella anyway because I took a vegetarian cooking class over the summer in which the main dish for the evening was a vegetarian paella. Incorporating some of the elements from that paella, I took the liberty of sauteing a bell pepper and an onion before cooking the garlic. Because I had in my freezer shrimp, sea scallops, and chorizo, I knew that I could use those in place of/in addition to some of the ingredients in Kim's recipe. Paella recipes I've seen usually call for browning all manners of protein, including chicken, rabbit, sausage, and various shell fish which can take over an hour, so I knew that limiting myself to only seafood and sausage would take less than ten minutes.

The only odd thing about Sr. Andres's recipe is that it instructs you to cook the shrimp beforehand and then add it back to the liquid so that it ends up being cooked for more than twenty minutes! While the shrimp did not come out rubbery it was certainly well cooked, shall we say. I learned from watching Robin Miller making grilled shrimp with citrus dipping sauce on the Food Network the other day that well cooked shrimp is C shaped, while overcooked shrimp is O shaped. Mine was definitely O shaped but it wasn't completely rubbery. Next time I might just add it raw near the end of cooking the rice so that it remains tender or cook it initially and then just add it at the end to reheat through.

It is critical that you do not stir the rice after it has cooked for the four minutes as Kim exhorts in her instructions. Even though you're using arborio rice, you're not making risotto! Once the ingredients are well combined, the rice has to be immersed in the simmering liquid so that it can absorb the flavorful stock you've made and cook to al dente.

Another critical ingredient in this dish is of course the saffron. Now I'd been using some inexpensive Badia brand saffron that I bought at a Latino market around the corner from me. Never really appreciating what saffron added, I decided to purchase some of the medium grade Spanish Coupé Saffron from my preferred spice vendor, Penzeys. Once again I proved to myself that the quality of the ingredients matters! A half teaspoon of this wonder spice perfumed the dish and the kitchen and made our mouths water! NOW I get it with the saffron! I also recognized it as what I love about bouillabaisse, that delicious seafood stew from Provence. I'm now on the search for other dishes in addition to risotto that use this spice.

Seafood Paella

As taught to Kim O’Donnel by Washington chef and cookbook author Jose Andres and adapted by me. I’d tried to annotate Kim’s recipe with my method, but it got too confusing so please refer to Kim’s posted recipe for additional ideas on making this dish.

Makes 4 generous servings


3 cups water, clam juice or stock (chicken, seafood, or vegetable)
4 sprigs of thyme
2 links of chorizo, about 8 ounces cut into ¾ inch pieces
12 ounces shrimp, shelled and deveined, and chopped if desired (reserve the shells of the shrimp if shelling yourself)
1 pound sea scallops

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/4-1/2 tsp. saffron
1/2 cup white wine
salt to taste
1 1/2 cups short-grained rice, such as Bomba, Calasparra or Arborio


  1. Flavor your stock. Combine water or stock with thyme and shrimp shells (optional) in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and keep stock on the stove, at a simmer.
  2. Pre-cook the protein. Heat up the paella pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the chorizo, browning it well, about 2-3 minutes each side. The point here is to get some caramelization on the chorizo not to cook it through because you’ll be adding it back to the paella to finish cooking later. If there is room in your pan without crowding anything, add shrimp and sauté for about 2 minutes each side until opaque, pink, and C shaped. Remove the chorizo and shrimp to a plate as they are done and add some of the scallops and cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side. The scallops will give up a lot of liquid so make sure the pan is hot and not too crowded otherwise you’ll end up steaming rather than searing. Remove the scallops and set aside with the chorizo and shrimp.
  3. Cook the aromatics. Add more oil if necessary and cook the onion and pepper for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point if the bottom of the pan is looking too dark, add a few tablespoons of the simmering stock and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. When the liquid has evaporated, add the garlic and sauté for about a minute until fragrant.
  4. Deglaze. Add the white wine and thoroughly deglaze the pan at this point, reducing the wine slightly. Add the canned tomato and let it cook for at least five minutes, until the color has transformed from red to a more golden, orange-brown shade and much of the liquid has evaporated forming, a gravy like sauce. Add the bay leaf and saffron. If you’re using good quality saffron you’ll know at this point because the dish will come alive with the distinctive mouth watering fragrance of saffron!
  5. Combine the components. Return the seafood and chorizo to the pan. [Note: you may add only the chorizo at this point and add the seafood at the end of cooking the rice.] Add stock. Bring up to a boil. Salt well. You want the mixture to be slightly salty. This is your last chance to add salt before the rice is added.
  6. Cook the rice. Add rice and set timer for 24 minutes [Kim specifies 14 minutes but that wasn’t long enough for my dish]. For the first four minutes, you may stir gently. After this point, reduce to a simmer and NO MORE STIRRING OR TOUCHING. Otherwise, you will have a gummy rice concoction. (This is also why you cannot add salt at this stage.)
  7. Finish the dish. Add seafood if you haven’t yet. Reduce heat rather than add more liquid if you find the paella absorbing liquid too rapidly and the rice isn’t cooked enough. The end result should be on the dry side, by the way.
  8. Prepare to enjoy! Turn off heat and let sit for at least five minutes. Serve to the delight of your dining companions.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly enough I've changed my way of cooking this dish since this post. Now I only precook the chorizo as described in the recipe. I finish the dish in the oven under the broiler for 5 minutes or so to cook the shellfish.


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