My parents decided to throw a dinner party last weekend, and while my mother and I discussed what to serve, paella came to mind for several reasons. It’s filling, it has great flavor, and while not difficult to make, it appears a labor of hard toil.
Few things on a table are, perhaps, as awe inspiring as a paella. This Spanish dish steeped in rich history and even richer flavor is the ultimate comfort food. With versatility of ingredients, you can really make this into whatever you want it to be and your guests will be impressed.
Paellas come in lots of shapes and sizes, though a traditional paella also has chorizo instead of chicken. Because several of our friends coming to dinner do not eat pork for religious reasons, I substituted the chorizo for chicken thighs. You’ll also notice that this recipe is meant to serve a lot of people – it’s easily scaled down. We had 12 adults and six children, and this recipe easily would have served another four to six people.
The recipe also calls for saffron, a key ingredient and worth the expense. However, a similar color (the yellow of the dish comes from the saffron) can be obtained from turmeric, but this will cause a different taste to the overall dish.
If you do not have a paella pan, a cast iron skillet makes for an ideal replacement due to the even heat distribution at the bottom of the pan – you want the bottom of the rice to be toasted, almost charred at the bottom. This is considered the prized part of the paella.
Herb Blend (used below):
- 3 cups cilantro, chopped
- juice of 3 lemons
- 2 tbsp garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly. This is used in the paella recipe below but can also be used as a marinade for other dishes like baked chicken.
Paella (Chicken and Seafood):
- 2 tsp saffron
- 64 oz seafood broth
- 6 cups water
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 16 chicken thighs, bone in
- 3 onions, diced
- 6 bell peppers (orange, red, yellow), diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp Hungarian paprika
- 3 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
- 8 cups Arborio rice (uncooked)
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- Herb mixture (recipe above)
- 2.5 cups frozen peas
- 1 pounds mussels, previously cleaned and open mussels discarded
- 1 pound little neck or cherry stone clams, previously cleaned and open clams discarded
- 1 pound U-31 to U-40 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- ½ pound U-21 to U-25 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- 1 pound U-6 to U-8 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ½ cup cilantro, chopped
- In a large pot, bring seafood broth and water to a simmer; add the saffron. Keep on simmer while preparing the paella until needed.
- Salt and pepper the chicken thighs.
- Heat the olive oil in a large paella pan (if you do not have a paella pan, a cast iron skillet will work but adjust the measurements for the size of the pan) on medium high heat.
- Sear the chicken thighs on each side until golden brown, approximately 4-5 minutes per side.
- Remove the chicken thighs and set aside for later use.
- Add the onions and some salt. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the peppers and cook another 4-5 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add paprika and tomatoes. Cook down another 2-3 minutes.
- Add rice, distributed evenly initially. Cook 3-5 minutes or so, stirring frequently to coat the rice and toast it.
- Add the one and de-glaze the pan.
- Add the chicken back to the pan. Stir in the peas and herb mixture.
- Bring broth to a low boil. Once broth is halfway absorbed, nestle the shellfish into the rice. Cover the pan, either with a lid or foil if no lid fits.
- After approximately 10-15 minutes, take off lid and discard any unopened shell fish. The rice should be mostly cooked at this point. Do not stir the rice as the bottom needs to caramelize – this is considered the most prized part of the paella.
- Add the shrimp and cover again.
- In about 8-10 minutes, uncover. Shrimp should be opaque (if not, cover again until cooked).
- Turn off heat now that everything is cooked. Squeeze the juice of two lemons over the dish and garnish with sprinkle of cilantro (optional) for garnish and flavor. Serve immediately.