Thursday, 2 June 2011

Valencia: a foodie break, or How to Build a Great Paella

2nd June 2011

Some of you know that I am a bit of a food-and-wine-type, so it would be impossible to blog about Valencia without a comment about the local dish, Paella Valenciana. It can be delicious; it can be modest; it can be odious.

It seems as though paella was indeed developed around Valencia. The City and its surrounds are flat, very flat. There are no hills or even hillocks, but there are plenty of cienagas, marshes perfect for growing rice, cheaply and abundantly.

An ancient tale suggests that slaves of the Moorish kings' created rice dishes by mixing the remaining meats and fish from royal banquets in large pots to take back to their homes rather than chucking the dregs, as it were, out. Certainly a possibility. It is also said that the word paella stems from the Arab word baqiyah, meaning left-overs. Most linguists believe the term paella comes from the Latin word for a flat plate, patella, which was used to offer gifts to the gods. Enigma, correct?

Ignoring the romantic aspects, all that is clear is that it was mid-19th century when modern paella was created in the Albufera bay, south of Valencia, where workers in the fields cooked, for lunch/dinner, the rice-dominated dish in a flat pan over an open fire and mixed in whatever they could find, whether snails, bits of meat and freshly gathered vegetables, maybe even a little bit of orange zest from the local trees. Apparently for high-days and holy-days, chicken or rabbit were added, a sound tradition, in my view.

I (and my family!) think that my recipe, although not totally authentic, is superior to any we ate there this visit, partly because I use both chicken and seafood.

Herewith the Stefanowicz version of Spanish paella for 8-10 people, maybe more or maybe fewer:


200g diced pancetta or salt pork
6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 c. virgin olive oil, Spanish preferred, as it's sweeter than French
1 tsp. powdered coriander
8-10 chicken thighs with skin
1-2 lb steamed lobster, if available, cut into serving pieces (optional)
Sardines, braised, if desired, or even chunky-meaty fish, such as cod or halibut (not too much, though, as they might give the paella a really fishy flavour.)
500g raw tiger prawns, shelled, although tails may be left on, if desired
2 chorizos, cooked and sliced into 1/4" thick slices
3/4 c. roughly chopped yellow onions
1 tsp. crushed whole saffron
2 Tbsp. capers, roughly chopped
2/3 c. tinned tomatoes, roughly chopped with a little juice
1 c. dry white wine
2-1/2 c. medium-grained uncooked white rice (worse case, use long-grained or short-grained, not basmati, but adjust cooking times)
3-1/2 c. (approximately) chicken stock, tinned or home-made, un-diluted, (or worst-case, from stock cubes)
20 mussels, de-bearded and scrubbed but not cooked
20 small clams, well-rinsed, but not cooked
1 medium jar of artichoke hearts, well-rinsed if in oil, drained if in brine
1 c. frozen peas
1/4 c. marinated sliced red peppers, not spicy

Black pepper
Lemon juice
Lemon wedges for serving


I use a heavy, oven-proof 4-quart casserole or high-sided pan rather than a paella pan, as the paella pan tends to permit the bottom to burn.

Saute on medium heat the pork until the fat is liquid and the pork bits are browned. Remove the pork and hold aside.

Mix the minced garlic, thyme, vinegar, oil and coriander in a mid-sized bowl. Add the uncooked chicken and coat throughly. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the pork fat (with a little extra oil if needed) saute the prawns quickly, adding the lobster pieces at the end, until both are bright pink but not over-cooked. Remove and reserve.

Saute the sliced chorizos for 5-8 minutes, if pre-cooked, 10-12 minutes if un-cooked. Remove and reserve.

Brown the coated chicken in the pot. Sprinkle in onion, capers, saffron and tomatoes. Saute, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

Return the pork bits to the pot. Add the wine, rice and 3 cups of chicken broth. Season with pepper (and salt, if desired, but I don't usually add salt). Cover and steam for about 12-15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F/175 degrees C.

Meanwhile, boil a little water, around 1/4-to 1/2 c., in another pot, add the mussels and clams until open, around 3-5 minutes. Discard any that aren't at least partly open.

When rice is mostly cooked, add the prawns, lobster, sardines or other fish, artichoke hearts, and peas to the chicken and rice mixture and cook on the stove-top, uncovered for about 10 minutes more. If all the liquid is absorbed, add liquid from the mussels/clams or more chicken broth.

Remove from heat. Add red peppers and chorizos and mussels and clams and mix thoroughly but gently.

Cover and reheat in the oven for around 10 minutes. If the dish is to be kept warm for up to 30 minutes, reduce heat to 200 degrees F/125 degrees C.

When ready to serve, remove from oven, stir in lemon juice and black pepper to taste and serve with lemon wedges.

...and preferably a 1973/1978/1994/1997/2001/2004/2007 Ribero del Duero or a Rioja Reserva from the same vintages. If those aren't available, well, any good quality 'soft' red wine will do, but Tempranillo/Cencibel/Tinto de Toro/Tinto Roriz (all the same grape variety by the way) is preferred. If not, in a pinch, head for the southern Rhone, Garnacha-based, red. Anything Rhone-ish will suffice.

copyright Patricia Stefanowicz MW 2011

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