My first taste of paella was in the most unlikely city of Bozeman Montana. In a quaint little bungalow turned restaurant just off of Main Street in trendy Bozeman, an immense pan of paella was served to us family style brimming with crab legs, lobster, mussels, chicken and sausage embedded in the signature saffron rice. I now know this is vastly different from the authentic Valencia version; however, it remains my vision of paella. The Bozeman paella was the most impressive presentation I had ever experienced, and the flavor was divine. Originating in Valencia Spain, authentic paella includes rabbit, chicken, broad green beans, lima beans, fresh tomato with Spanish short-grained rice richly colored with saffron, simmered over an out door open flame.
My husband recently traveled through Spain with a stop in Valencia. With the vision of him eating fabulous paella without me, I decided to attempt creating this seemingly complicated and intimidating dish myself. I found it is quite simple and quick. Valencia created the basic paella from which many versions have emerged though now, as my husband tells me, even the restaurants of Valencia offer a variety of paella. My freezer contained crab claws, shrimp, and reindeer sausage, an Alaskan gift from my brother, and remembering my first paella, decided to veer from the authentic to the innovative paella with delicious results.
To begin, I purchased short-grained paella rice called Calasparra. The best rice substitute is Bomba or Arborio, which are also short-grained. You may find one of these varieties or another short-grained rice in the international section of your grocery or online. Whichever rice you choose to use, follow the package directions with regard to the rice/liquid ratio and adjust this recipe accordingly to ensure the perfect rice consistency in the completed dish. The rice should be al dente and intact, not mushy and broken.
Another important purchase is saffron. Saffron is packaged in small quantities as a little goes a long way. Apparently, there is some tomfoolery in the saffron market. Low-quality saffron may have colored corn silks used as filler that is hard to detect. I chose the Mehr brand and was happy with the results.
To prepare the paella, I used my 3 ¾ quart Le Creuset enamel coated cast iron braiser, which worked well in lieu of an authentic paella pan. It has a large flat bottom and low sides.
½ Tsp. Saffron
¼ Cup Hot Water
1 Lb Sausage of choice, precooked in casing
½ Lb Shrimp, shelled and deveined, precooked or cook with sausage until opaque.
½ Lb Crab legs or claws, precooked
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Rice, short-grained
1 Cup Tomato, canned diced and in sauce
1 Cup Red Pepper, sliced
5 Large Garlic Cloves, chopped
1/2 Cup Scallions, diced
1 Tsp Paprika, red mild or sweet
¼ Tsp Red Pepper Flakes ( optional)
¼ Tsp Salt
3 ¾ Cup Chicken Broth, I chose low sodium
Add saffron to hot water and set aside. Heat the olive oil in your pan over medium heat. Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces and brown lightly in olive oil to render additional flavor. Remove the sausage and set it aside.
In the same pan with olive oil and sausage drippings, add tomato, red pepper slices, garlic, scallions, paprika, red pepper, and salt. Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the broth, saffron with water, rice, and cooked sausage. Stir once to distribute the rice evenly, leaving it uncovered on a rapid simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Taste and add additional salt if needed. If the entire pan is not simmering, move it around the burner occasionally to ensure all of the rice is cooking evenly. Once the rice has almost completely absorbed the liquid, arrange the cooked shrimp and crab around the top. Reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking until all remaining liquid is absorbed and the shrimp and crab are heated. It is important to cook the liquid out thoroughly to produce a small amount of caramelization on the bottom of the pan, which adds delicious flavor to the paella.
With your beautiful paella in hand, take your champions walk to the table amid the cheers of your guests. Salud!
Questions? Comments? As always, we would love to hear from you!
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