Paella Valenciana

I enjoyed my first Paella Valenciana at Miro Spanish Grille in Charlotte a few months after they first opened. Thinking back on the experience, I was definitely new to traditional Spanish cuisine. I remember wondering why the rice was crusted on the bottom of my paella, but luckily I did not say anything. I now know the delicious crust is known as the socarrat, and is a sign of well-cooked paella. It is considered a delicacy.

Paella originated in Valencia, a fertile rice-growing region along the eastern coast of Spain. The word paella stems from the Latin word patella, which means ‘pan’, and refers to the type of pan used to cook the rice. The paellera is a wide, shallow pan with handles on opposite sides. The flat, round shape of the paella pan allows the rice to cook evenly without trapping too much moisture inside the grains. If you don’t have a paella pan, you can use a large heavy skillet, at least 12 inches in diameter. I used a copper core All-Clad pan; solid, heavy bottom that holds the heat extremely well.

There are endless variations on paella using a variety of poultry, seafood, meats, and vegetables; use what you enjoy in it. Today I am using shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo, chicken, and asparagus. All of my seafood came from Catch On Seafood – a neat little store in Plaza Midwood. In all paellas there are three basic ingredients: stock, olive oil, and the real star of the dish – the rice.

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Bomba rice is considered the best strain of Spanish short-grain rice for paella. Bomba is unique for its ability to absorb three times its volume in liquid without turning mushy. The more flavorful the liquid, the more flavor-packed the cooked grain. The difference in the absorption rate is significant enough that if you are using Bomba rice, allow 3 cups of liquid for every cup of rice. Italian Arborio is often suggested as a substitution, some believe it is too creamy. This will be my test today, as I was unable to find Bomba rice after visiting three stores! Arborio it is for my first go at paella.

NOTE: Bomba rice is available at La Tienda and Amazon for mail order.

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For this dish, it’s helpful to have everything ready before you start cooking. Keep the seafood and the meat in the refrigerator until just ready to cook. Do all your chopping, and get your stocks and rice measured out. It’s going to look like a lot of ingredients, but it goes fast and you will not be disappointed. Mine came out excellent! I have some Bomba rice on order and will post a follow up in a couple of weeks.

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  • 1.5 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 3 cups stock. A mix of stock is preferred, rather than just one type; today I used 1 cup each of clam juice, Classic Seafood Stock, and Roasted Vegetable Demi-Glace.
  • 1 cup dried Spanish chorizo (sliced into ¼ inch rounds)
  • 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, large dice
  • 1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 dozen mussels
  • 6 count middleneck clams
  • Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I used Hojiblanca from Pour Olive
  • ½ cup Red pepper, small dice
  • 1 small Spanish red onion, small dice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced (you can also dice, but I like the paper thin slices)
  • 20 threads Spanish saffron. I used a generous pinch powdered Spanish saffron from The Spice House.
  • 1 bunch of scallions sliced thin, keeping the green tops and the white bottoms separate
  • 1 cup Asparagus, bite size cut
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Let your paella pan heat for a bit on a large burner at medium-high. And add a few tablespoons of olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Make sure that the entire bottom of the pan is nicely coated with oil. Add the chorizo first, and let it brown on both sides. Add the red pepper, onion, scallion whites, and garlic; sauté on medium heat for five minutes.

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Move the vegetables to the side of the pan, and add the tomato paste to the other size. Caramelize the paste for a couple minutes, and then mix it into the vegetables. First round of seasoning – add salt, pepper, and the saffron to the mix and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

Add chicken and then toss with other ingredients; and sauté for two more minutes. Add the rice by sprinkling it over the top of everything.

Add the stock(s) and turn the heat to high. From this point on, DO NOT stir the paella. Stirring a paella makes it gummy. Twist and shake your pan around a bit so the rice starts to settle through to the bottom. Turn the heat to high and when the stock is boiling, add the clams. Turn back down to medium-high heat and continue to boil for another 8-10 minutes.

Watch the clams, when they open if they take on rice, gently empty the rice back out and move them to the side. Shift the pan around on the burner periodically to ensure even cooking on the bottom.

When the clams have opened, add the asparagus, and then scatter the mussels and shrimp on top of the paella. Turn the heat down to medium. You can shake the pan a bit again, but remember – no stirring!

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When the mussels are open and the shrimp is cooked, check the bottom of the paella for the socarrat (crust).  If the paella does not have a crust, simply turn up the heat and cook until it does. Once the crust is formed, garnish the paella with the scallion tops, freshly ground pepper, and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

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Let the paella sit for ten minutes, uncovered, before serving. And oh yeah – that crust? Dark brown, slightly crispy and delicious!! 🙂

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Sous Vide Lobster Tails

I have been wanting to try sous vide cooking for some time, and on the recommendation of my colleagues bought myself a Sansaire for Christmas. Being one of those people who has a lot of kitchen ‘gadgets’, and very susceptible to advertising of new ones, I wanted a sous vide unit that would be easy to store. The Sansaire is just perfect. It’s a tall, black tower that you immerse partially into water for sous vide cooking. It stores easily, and doesn’t take up the room that something with a water receptacle would. For those that are curious, you can cool down bottles of wine very quickly with this baby as well. 🙂

Clean Catch had a huge selection of seafood in for the holidays, and I picked up two 10 ounce lobster tails with the rest of my order. I did some research on sous vide and cooking lobster, and it went all the way from 17 minutes to 41 minutes at 140 deg. F. Most of the articles were close to the 40 minute mark. Armed with my new toy, off I went into the kitchen.

My lobster tails came out very tender, with the entire tail cooked the same. Cooking in the water bath preserves the true taste of the lobster, which other methods don’t always do. I would cook these over and over again, and I can’t wait to try a variety of things with the Sansaire.

The Tails

2 10 oz lobster tails
4 Tbsp high quality butter; I used Plugra European Style, Kerrygold Irish works as well
2 tsp of your favorite seafood seasoning; I used Savory Spice Shop’s Cherry Creek Seafood Seasoning
Quartered lemons, for serving

In a pot big enough to hold water to be between the minimum and maximum lines on the Sansaire, fill it appropriately, keeping in mind that you will be adding food to it. Immerse the Sansaire, and set it to 140 deg. F.

Remove the meat from the lobster tails. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to cut down the middle of the front and the back of the tail with seafood shears, and then carefully work the meat away from the shell. You can also blanch them for a minute to make the meat easier to remove.

Lobster tails.

Put the tail meat, with 1 Tbsp of butter and 1 tsp of seafood seasoning, into a Food Saver bag. If you don’t have Food Saver bags, you can use a normal plastic zip and lock bag. Remove all the air from the bag and seal it using the machine. If using a normal plastic bag, lower the bag slowly into the water. The water will displace the air in the bag. When you are near the top, zip it closed.

Lobster tails ready to be cooked.

When your bags are sealed, confirm the water temperature is at 140 deg. F., and drop them into their bath. Leave them alone for 41 minutes.

Sansaire cooking the lobster.

After the time has passed, remove them from the water and from their bags. Serve with lemon quarters and two Tbsp. drawn butter. Enjoy!!

Finished sous vide lobster tails.

Fried Oysters

Two things happened this weekend to put the fried oyster idea into my head: Clean Catch received the first freshly shucked oysters of the year and in chatting with my fishmonger, he suggested frying them; and I refreshed my spice rack at Savory Spice Shop.

Usually I will buy fresh oysters at Clean Catch, shuck them myself and serve them on the half shell with mignonette and lemon wedges. I rarely eat anything fried anymore, but I decided to run with this fried oyster idea. I’ve had fried oysters before in an Oyster Po’ Boy and it was quite good. I found a great Emeril recipe for fried oysters and adapted it to my own taste.

I picked the Cherry Creek Seafood Seasoning from Savory Spice Shop to flavor the oysters. This blend highlights dill as its featured flavor; and is a mix of Lemon Peel, Four Corners Peppercorn blend, red bell pepper, dill weed, cracked dill seed, onion and salt. I used it a couple of nights ago on broiled Alaskan Halibut and it was amazing. If you don’t have a Savory Spices near you, I’d suggest a similar spice blend from your local grocery.

Let’s cook!

1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon Cherry Creek Seafood Seasoning, plus 1 tablespoon
16 freshly shucked oysters, about 1 pint, drained
1/2 cup masa harina
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups vegetable oil, for frying

In a bowl, combine the buttermilk with 1 tablespoon of the Cherry Creek seasoning. Add the oysters and marinate for in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.

Combine the masa harina and flour with the remaining Cherry Creek seasoning in a shallow dish.

In a deep-fryer or a medium, heavy pot with high sides, heat the oil to 360 degrees F.

Dredge the oysters in the flour mixture and shake the pieces to remove any excess; place them on a sheet of wax paper until you’re ready to start cooking. Carefully add the oysters to the hot oil in batches, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides; approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the oysters with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve immediately.

I served them with lemon wedges, fresh ranch dressing, and LeRoy’s Fiery Green Olive hot sauce. Enjoy!

Fried Oysters