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Archive | March 6th, 2013

Paella’s a Dish You Can Make to Suit Your Tastes

Paella’s a Dish You Can Make to Suit Your Tastes

Food lovers watch Zach Lutton (center) and an assistant create a massive paella with plenty of seafood in it.

Food lovers watch Zach Lutton (center) and an assistant create a massive paella with plenty of seafood in it.

Making a good paella is all about layering the flavors you have, which could be anything from lobster and clams to chicken and chorizo. Then there’s the sofrito, an aromatic mixture of garlic, tomatoes, peppers and onions cooked in olive oil, as well as saffron and rice.

Zach Lutton of Zedric's adds a prawn to his paella.

Zach Lutton of Zedric’s adds a prawn to his paella.

But the key ingredient, in Zach Lutton’s opinion, is the stock.

That’s what the owner of Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go believes, and it’s what he says helped him win second place in last year’s Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery. This year’s challenge is Sunday, and Lutton will be back, hoping to move up to first place. To give himself a warmup and promote the event, he offered a demonstration of how to make the Spanish dish during a recent Pearl Farmers Market. If the reaction of the crowd is any indication, his bounteous tray topped with heads-on prawns, mussels, clams, baby octopi, chorizo, peas, red bell peppers and even some lemon halves should keep him in the running.

“The stock is the most important ingredient in the whole dish,” he said, adding that he had made his with both lobster bodies and chicken.  “It is the flavor of the paella.”

But that doesn’t mean you’re home free if you’ve got good stock. Paella takes practice, Lutton said.

“This isn’t a quick thing,” he told the crowded class during his cooking demonstration. “Take your time with it. Practice it a few times.”

To begin, decide the ingredients you are going to use. Start with the rice, which should be short grain, such as Bomba, not arborio, which is the rice used in risotto. If chicken is on the list, brown it in some olive oil at the bottom of the pan, but don’t cook it through. You can remove it and use the oil base to make your sofrito, though Lutton doesn’t. He slow cooks his for two hours and lets it rest over night.

But this the time to add it to the pan. Then the rice goes in and each grain gets coated. This is the point when the chicken returns to the pan as well as the chorizo, followed by the stock. Again, this is not risotto, so you don’t stir and stir until each last drop of stock has been absorbed. In fact, you don’t stir the dish at all as it cooks over the heat. But you do need to watch it. After 15 minutes or so, “when you see the rice coming up and the liquid disappearing, you’re headed in the right direction,” the chef said.

Zach Lutton dishes up paella.

Zach Lutton dishes up paella.

Be careful that too much liquid doesn’t disappear or you could burn your paella. Expert paella makers want a crusty bottom, which is also known as socarrat, but no one wants it burned. And Lutton advised beginners not to worry about that. He admitted that he doesn’t pay attention to that when he’s making paella, though it is one of the categories paellas are judged on in competitions.

He was more concerned about getting the seasoning right. Paella is a subtle dish, so a strong spice such as saffron has to be used judiciously. “Don’t add too much saffron, because it can overpower the dish,” he said. He limits his other seasonings to salt and pepper.

Shortly before the broth had been absorbed, Lutton and his assistants added the seafood to the top, again not stirring the mixture. Instead, they planted the bottom of the shellfish into the rice mixture, so the heat could cook them, allowing the mussels and clams to open. The enormous prawns were set in a ring at the center, while the baby octopi were arranged in a ring around the outside. Peas and red peppers were sprinkled on top, adding color as well as flavor.

The entire pan was then covered in aluminum foil so it could rest before serving. The crowd was getting a little hungry, waiting for a sample. “I promise y’all’ll eat soon,” he said with a chuckle. “Just give me about 10 more minutes.”

Tenting the pan allowed the steam to cook any of the seafood above the rice. It also released an enticing aroma that had people eager to try a dish, which Lutton and one of his assistants spooned up in generous amounts, making sure people could taste whatever they wanted from the array of meats that had been included.

Only Lutton seemed to find fault with the paella, which he said was slightly soupy. “But it’s still good, no matter what,” he added. “That stock is awesome.”

Zach Lutton's paella

Zach Lutton’s paella

If you want to make your own paella, be aware that proportions vary depending on the size of the pan used. Pans run in size from 7 1/2 inches to those more than several feet wide. Your best bet is to find a recipe, such as Leslie Horne’s for Texas Quail, Chorizo and Mushroom Paella, which was created for a 15-inch paella and serves about six people. You can find paella pans and burners at GauchoGourmet, 935 Isom Road, and Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina in the Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway.

You can also make paella any way you like. In Spain, you might find some cooks using pasta instead of rice. You could use only vegetables or only seafood, eliminate the seafood entirely or add what you have in the freezer.

I judged a non-traditional paella challenge in Austin last fall alongside James Canter, the chef who won last year’s Paella Challenge. We tasted a Hawaiian paella seasoned with jamaica, or hibiscus flowers, and another topped with fried eggs and avocado in a ranchero style. One team offered a chicken tinga paella with radishes and cotija cheese. There was even a dessert paella, which was actually more like rice pudding. The winner was a soul food paella made with pig’s feet, ham hocks and chicken gizzards among an array of down-home ingredients. The pictures below illustrate that the type of paella you make is bounded only by your own imagination.

For information on the fourth annual Paella Challenge, click here.

Paella Ranchero

Paella Ranchero

Soul Food Paella

Soul Food Paella

A Hawaiian paella with shrimp, pineapple, artichokes and hibiscus rice.

A Hawaiian paella with shrimp, pineapple, artichokes and hibiscus rice.

Chicken Tinga Paella

Chicken Tinga Paella

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leslie Horne Dishes Up Texas Quail, Chorizo and Mushroom Paella

Leslie Horne Dishes Up Texas Quail, Chorizo and Mushroom Paella

Leslie Horne makes paella.

Leslie Horne makes paella.

Leslie Horne of Aurelia’s Chorizo knows her way around a paella pan.

Last fall, she gave several demonstrations at GauchoGourmet on Isom Road, using products in the store to create a dish that was loaded with a cornucopia of flavors. She also cooked up several enormous pans, featuring her chorizo and a host of other succulent ingredients, at Paella Lovers United, an Austin cook-off that drew hundreds to what is essentially a backyard get-together complete with prizes for those interested in competing. (Horne was not part of the competition.)

Once you get the knack of the dish, you’ll discover that you can make paella any way you like. Here’s a recipe that features her chorizo as well as that Texas favorite, quail. What makes it different is that it calls for no seafood. But if you love shrimp, include them in the recipe. Just don’t add them too early or they’ll overcook.

That’s all part of the fun of learning how to make this Spanish favorite. You can make it your own.

Texas Quail, Chorizo and Mushroom Paella

6 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
6 Texas quail (we love Diamond H brand)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 links Aurelia’s Spanish Style Chorizo, sliced into 1/4-inch thick sliced (see note)
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
1 medium tomato, grated or finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
3 cups short grain rice
2 cups green peas
Roasted red pepper strips for garnish
Caper berries, for garnish

Leslie Horne's paella at GauchoGourmet.

Leslie Horne’s paella at GauchoGourmet.

Combine chicken broth and saffron in large pot and heat to almost boiling. (Do not let it boil, or it will evaporate.) Season quail with salt, freshly ground black pepper and smoked Spanish paprika. In a 15-inch paella pan, over 2 burners, heat olive oil. Brown quail, but do not cook through. Remove from pan and set aside. Add onion and bell pepper, cooking until onion is wilted and translucent. Add chorizo and mushrooms, cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato, garlic and parsley. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms begin to soften and garlic becomes aromatic. Add 3 cups rice; stir to coat with pan drippings. Return quail to pan. Carefully add the hot saffron chicken broth. Taste and adjust the salt, if needed. Bring the stock to a boil, cook for 15 minutes rotating pan over two burners. Scatter peas evenly over entire pan but do not stir. Garnish the top of paella with strips of roasted red peppers and caper berries. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until all broth has been absorbed. Turn off heat. Cover with foil or a clean towel and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Note: Mexican-style chorizo cannot be substituted in this recipe.

Makes 6 servings.

From Leslie Horne/Aurelia’s Chorizo

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