I lived for four months in Seville, Spain during college and my best discovery overseas – well, in addition to learning a lot about myself and all that good stuff – was paella. I ate it least once a week, sometimes more. The nightlife in Seville is decidedly more late-night than anything here in the States, so we’d come home around 5:30 a.m., have breakfast, then go to bed, and when we woke up at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon there would be an enormous pan of paella waiting for us in the kitchen. (Let me tell you, it’s still the best hangover cure I’ve ever found.) It was my go-to order when taking visitors out for dinner.
(No, this was not what mine looked like. My mother must have been ahead of her time when she grabbed this shot in early 2007, well before the era of smartphones where we all Instagrammed endless photos of our food.)
There were a lot of things that I brought home with me after my trip – self-esteem, spontaneity, new friends, an appreciation for wine, a love for dining outdoors – but I couldn’t bring home my favorite Spanish foods, including paella. And it’s stayed with me all these years. I’ve tried a few decent paellas at restaurants here, but they never seem to measure up to a steaming pan brought to a candlelit outdoor table at 10 p.m. in the winding streets of old Sevilla.
Ever since, I’ve been on a quest to replicate a great paella at home. I’ve had my eye on Mark Bittman’s version in The Food Matters Cookbook for a long time now, and I knew when it was my turn to host I had to take on the beast. And I have to say, I was impressed. This recipe is something I could practice and build on. Someday, I may be able to make a paella like a Spanish mama. Maybe.
A few notes if you’re thinking of trying this: the chorizo definitely lends a key flavor. Veg-heads, Bittman recommends using a bit of Spanish pimenton (smoked paprika) or saffron if you want to skip it. The red peppers added a lot too, in my opinion. I also highly recommend using shellfish if you eat it. It creates a delicious broth for the rice to continue to cook in.
I bought monstrous Virginia clams at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, so could only fit four on top of the dish and had to steam the rest in a separate pot. The flavor infusion was worth it, though. Get something local – I would have gotten mussels if I was in New England. Next time, I’d like to add squid.
I’ve posted the recipe below, but you can see what the other project members made here. If you haven’t joined the project yet, you can just start cooking along and post your blog link in the comments or a photo on the Facebook page here.
Pared-Down Paella with Peas, Clams, and Chorizo from The Food Matters Cookbook
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz Spanish chorizo or other smoked sausage, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup long-grain brown rice
salt and black pepper
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 pounds hard-shell clams, well scrubbed, those with broken shells discarded
1/2 cup fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. (I used a cast iron.) When it’s hot, add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent, 3-5 minutes more.
2. Stir in the rice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the rice is glossy and coated with oil, just a minute or two. Add the tomato and 2 cups water. Stir, adjust the heat so the liquid boils steadily but not violently, and cover.
3. Cook for 30 minutes before checking for doneness; add a little water if the rice is dry but not yet tender. Cover and cook until the rice is just done and the liquid is absorbed, another 5-10 minutes. Stir in the peas and lay the clams on top, replace the lid, and continue cooking until the clams are open, 3-5 minutes. If any don’t, you can open them with a butter knife. For the crunchy crust of rice at the bottom of the pan (soccarat), uncover the pan and turn the heat up so the rice sizzles. Cook, without stirring, until you can smell the rice toasting (not burning), then turn off the heat. Remove the clams from the shells and return them to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning and toss. Serve, garnished with parsley and lemon wedges.