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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Pickled Shrimp

Although sadly my Patriots did not make it to the Super Bowl this year, the Seahawks did and that’s definitely a great reason for a celebration! Looking for an easy appetizer for our Super Bowl celebration, I decided on Pickled Shrimp. Make it the night before, and quick to be on the table on game day. 🙂

I use 16/20 shrimp in this recipe, but you’re free to use whatever size you prefer. If you’re packing to someone else’s party, this would look great in a mason jar! Makes 1 quart.

Pickled Shrimp

8 1/3 cups of water
Kosher salt
2 lbs 16/20 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1 cup high quality olive oil
2 cups cider vinegar
8 bay leaves
3 teaspoons crushed red pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped in large chunks
1 lemon, thinly sliced, remove seeds
1/3 cup capers in brine, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 tsp celery seeds

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil, and add 6 Tablespoons of kosher salt. Add the shrimp and boil for two minutes, until they are just pink. Drain the shrimp and let cool.

Combine all the remaining ingredients, including the 1/3 cup of water, in a large bowl. Stir and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Taste and add more salt as desired. Add the shrimp and stir, making sure all the shrimp are submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Enjoy! 🙂

Shrimp Tacos with a Citrus Twist

My favorite fish market, Clean Catch, had some amazing tiger shrimp in the case yesterday, so I picked up a pound (eight shrimp in this instance) and decided to try a different take on shrimp tacos. While a peppery, smoky spice shines in tacos, citrus also works very well. I use orange, lemon, and lime in this version; and a sour cream sauce with more of a kick. Also added some honey in the marinade for a slight kiss of sweet.

I did these in a skillet on medium-high heat, but the shrimp are definitely great for grilling. Unfortunately it’s raining tonight in Charlotte so grilling was out for me. 🙂

Spicy Citrus Shrimp Tacos

Spicy Citrus Shrimp Tacos
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime
2 Tbsp chipotle-fused olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

Southwestern Cream Sauce
1/2 cup light sour cream (or fat-free greek yogurt)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

4 flour or corn tortillas
Shredded lettuce
Shredded Mexican cheese
Salsa or Pico de Gallo
Guacamole
Cilantro and quartered limes for garnish

Whisk together the orange, lemon and lime juices, olive oil, honey, spices and garlic for the marinade. Toss the shrimp in the marinade to coat, cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, but not more than 30. Any longer than 30 and the shrimp will start to ‘cook’ in the acid of the citrus juices.

Waiting for the shrimp to marinade, whisk together all the ingredients for the southwest cream sauce and refrigerate until ready to serve.

If grilling, thread the shrimp onto skewers, and grill 1-3 minutes per side, until opaque and cooked through. Use the grill to heat the tortillas as well. If cooking indoors, cook the shrimp in a skillet on medium-high heat for 1-3 minutes per side; warm the tortillas in the microwave.

Sprinkle shredded lettuce and cheese on the tortillas and divide the shrimp among the tortillas. Drizzle the cream sauce over the shrimp and garnish with cilantro and lime wedges. Serve guacamole and salsa/pico on the side. Serves 2 (2 tacos each). Enjoy!

Spicy Citrus Tacos and Beer

Summer Spicy Shrimp Tacos: Muy Delicioso!

Summer is the perfect time for spicy tacos with an ice cold Corona. Occasionally I like a crunchy taco shell, but most often prefer a soft flour or corn tortilla. I picked up some pico de gallo at Whole Foods, and whipped up some quick guacamole. Whole Foods usually has good store-made guacamole as well if you’d prefer to not make your own.

Olive oil, olive oil, olive oil! I use olive oil frequently in my cooking, and am crazy about the new stores opening in Charlotte that sell fused/infused oils and vinegars. I have two favorite stores – Pour Olive and New World Olive Oil. I’ve found I like New World’s fused oils and Pour Olive’s vinegars best, but they both offer top notch products. Fused means fresh ingredients are added at the time the olives are crushed, making it integral to the oil itself. Infused is flavoring added after the oil has been milled. Today’s recipe features New World’s Jalapeno-fused olive oil – it has a clean, bright peppery taste.

The combination of spices and jalapeno-fused olive oil make these shrimp tacos quite spicy. If you prefer a milder taste, use regular olive oil and omit the regular chili powder. The chipotle chili powder adds a smoky, spicy kick by itself and is an excellent compliment to the cumin, found in a lot of Mexican cooking.

Spicy Shrimp Tacos

Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Lime-Cilantro Sour Cream
Serves 2

1 lb white shrimp (12 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Sprinkling of salt (I used Red Hawaiian)
1 tablespoon jalapeno-fused olive oil

Lime-Cilantro Sour Cream
¼ cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ teaspoon cumin
Zest and juice from a lime
Sprinkling of salt

4 soft flour tortillas
Guacamole
Pico de Gallo
Shredded Mexican Cheese

Whisk the garlic, chili powders, cumin, salt and olive oil together in a bowl. Add the shrimp and toss well to make sure all are covered in marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Mix together all ingredients for the lime-cilantro sour cream. The sauce will be runny, which is good for drizzling over the tacos. Store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the tacos.

Heat a medium-large skillet on medium heat and cook the shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Heat the tortillas in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds. Place two on each plate, and sprinkle some shredded Mexican cheese across the center; add a couple dollops of guacamole. Put three shrimp on each taco; top with pico de gallo and drizzle some lime-cilantro sour cream across the top.

Garnish with limes wedges and cilantro sprigs. Enjoy! 🙂

Crunchy Garlic Baked Shrimp and Roasted Bellas

Looking for something fast and easy for dinner? Today I bring you Crunchy Garlic Baked Shrimp and Roasted Bellas. Both are quick prep and cook time, and delicious! 🙂

Crunchy Garlic Baked Shrimp

Crunchy Garlic Baked Shrimp

1 lb. large raw shrimp, deveined and peeled
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. white wine or Tequila
Juice of one lime
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
4 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 deg. Fahrenheit.

Combine the shrimp, garlic, lime juice and white wine (or tequila) in a bowl. Stir to combine, and pour into an ungreased baking dish. Spread the shrimp out evenly, and then season with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a separate bowl, and mix in the Panko and cilantro until well combined. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the shrimp in the baking dish.

Bake until the shrimp are pink and opaque, about 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Check them at 13 minutes to make sure they aren’t overcooking.

Baby Bellas

This makes some mighty tasty, slightly spicy mushrooms. You can grill or roast these in the oven. Harissa is a hot chili sauce, the main ingredients typically being piri piri, serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers, spices and herbs. If you can’t find Harissa, you can substitute Asian chili sauce.

Roasted Bellas

1 Tablespoon harissa
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
8 ounces baby Portobello or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved lengthwise

Whisk the harissa, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and oregano together in a medium bowl. Add the mushrooms and toss well to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes, stirring periodically.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. Fahrenheit, or preheat the grill if grilling.

Skewer the mushrooms on pre-soaked bamboo skewers. Roast them in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or grill 5 minutes per side.