Tag Archive | "saffron"

Ask A Foodie: Got a Good Paella Recipe?

Create your own paella with the flavors and ingredients you prefer.

Q. Looking for a good paella recipe to make this weekend. Do you know of any? Thanks.


A. You can make paella a host of different ways, as the recent Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery demonstrated. You can use any cut of pork, Thai curry or crawfish, if you choose. Let your imagination run wild.

I prefer at least to build on a traditional recipe that reminds of when I first had paella. I was in Barcelona back in high school. It had a number of ingredients I don’t remember ever having had before, including squid, saffron, chorizo and artichokes. Rice was about all I recognized, but I loved the dish from the first bite.

I wish I had my host’s recipe, but the closest I’ve found is Janet Mendel’s Paella with Seafood from “Tapas and More Great Dishes from Spain,” a much-used cookbook I picked up in Spain on a subsequent visit. Her version is a good template that you can alter to suit your personal tastes. I would use chorizo, for example, and probably substitute more shrimp and scallops for the squid, simply because I’ve never cooked with squid. (Why, I don’t know.) I’d also use clams instead of mussels. I also like to garnish the dish with some fresh green herbs, such as cilantro or parsley.

That sounds like a lot of substitutions, but it is still built on a great base of rice with saffron and seafood stock, chicken, vegetables including peas and artichokes as well as green bell pepper and roasted red pepper.

Paella with Seafood (Paella con Mariscos)

1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and steamed open
1 pound large or jumbo, uncooked shrimp
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds chicken or rabbit, cut in small pieces
10 ounces squid, cleans and cut in rings
2 small green peppers, diced
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 ounces peas or broad beans or green beans or quartered artichokes (par-boil beans or artichokes)
6 1/2 cups water or stock
1 pound Spanish short-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron (or more for a bright yellow color)
Crushed peppercorns or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons salt
1 roasted red pepper, cut in strips
Lemon, for garnish

Discard the empty half shells of the mussels. Strain the liquid and reserve it. Cook 6-8 unpeeled shrimp in boiling water for 1 minute. Set them aside and add the liquid to the mussel liquid . Shell the remaining prawns.

Heat the oil in a paella pan or large frying pan (about 16 inches across). Fry the chicken pieces, adding next the green peppers, then the tomato, garlic and peas, beans or artichokes.  Combine the reserved liquid and stock or water to make 6 1/2 cups. Add all but 1 cupful of the liquid to the paella. Crush the saffron in a mortar or in a teacup using the butt-end of a knife. Dissolve it in a little water or white wine and stir into the paella with the pepper and salt. Add the peeled prawns. When the liquid comes to a boil, add the rice and continue to cook on a high heat for 6 to  8 minutes. Then reduce the heat and continue to cook until rice is just barely tender, adding the additional liquid as needed, about 8-10 minutes more. Don’t stir the rice, but shake the pan. Garnish the top with the reserved mussels, cooked prawns and strips of roasted red pepper. Let the paella rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Tapas and More Great Dishes from Spain” by Janet Mendel

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Photo courtesy Johnny Hernandez

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Ask a Foodie: Why Is Saffron So Expensive? Are There Substitutes?

Saffron threads suffuse food with a dusky, exotic flavor and golden color.

Q. I love the color and flavor of saffron, especially in paella, but it’s expensive. Can you substitute other seasonings when it is called for in a dish, such as achiote or turmeric?     — K.W.

A. Saffron is one of the world’s more exotic flavorings, used since ancient times and difficult to harvest. The thin threads are pricey, but the flavor is really what makes it all worth it. It has a dusky perfume that suffuses anything from delicate rice dishes or hearty stews. It’s delicious with fish or chicken and a perfect seasoning for slow-simmered lentils or garbanzo beans.

If it is just a pale golden or slightly orange color you want to impart to food, and all you have on hand is turmeric, a pinch or two of this less-expensive spice, in dried form, is OK to use. Fresh turmeric (from the rhizome, part of the root system, of a tropical plant) has a more pungent flavor, and is good on its own terms, not just as a substitute for saffron.

Achiote (from annatto seeds, from a tropical evergreen plant)  is mild in flavor but will yield a more reddish-orange color. It is used to color some cheeses, for instance, as an alternative to artificial colorings that might cause allergic reactions.

The reason for saffron’s expense is first that while the saffron crocus grows in places throughout the planet, it doesn’t grow just anywhere. The stigma, or threads that are the female part of the plant’s reproductive system, must be painstakingly hand-harvested from the blossom of a type of crocus plant. But a little saffron goes a long way, and it’s a valued addition to any good cook’s spice cabinet.

Photograph by Bonnie Walker

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Rice Rules at Pearl Paella Party

Waldy Malouf’s Paella is artfully arranged with seafood and vegetables on top.

It was a beautiful day for a cook-off Sunday and the Pearl Brewery, in front of the Culinary Institute of America, offered a perfect setting for the first ever Cocina de las Americas. The big event was a Paella Cook-Off.

Rene Fernandez of Azuca stirs rice into a paella that he made out of competition during Sunday’s paella cook-off.

When the flames under the huge paella pans were extinguished in the afternoon, judges chose their winners. First place went to chef and restaurateur Ben Ford, of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, CA. Peter Holt and crew from Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurant in Houston,  took second place and San Antonio chef, Jeffrey Balfour of Citrus, at the Valencia Hotel, took third.

There were as many imaginative takes on paella as there were teams — 16 in all. These included celebrity chefs Waldy Malouf of New York (Beacon and Waldy’s restaurants in New York City) and Ford. Each team drew long lines, as attendees waited patiently for tastes of the famous, saffron-laced Spanish rice dish.

SavorSA was there, too. The writers of this article admit they had a few minutes of high excitement when the chef we’d been assigned to help ran late. Michael Gilleto, chef of a private club in New Jersey, flew in Sunday and arrived in the nick of time, but not before his two nervous assistants had dashed off to the huge food pantry in the middle of the grounds to snatch up ingredients. If Gilleto didn’t make it, we figured we’d pinch hit and make our own paella.

Chef Michael Giletto plates his paella for judging.

Gilleto showed up, though, and we were off — slicing, dicing, killing lobsters, cutting up whole chickens, cleaning shrimp and dashing around looking for a few ingredients we’d missed during the first mad rush.

Gilleto liked a classic-style paella, one traditionally more about rice and olive oil than about masses of seafood, chicken, chorizo and more ingredients piled high. We were with him on that.

Along with the usual ingredients in the pantry we noticed bags of chopped pineapple, hoja santa plants (sometimes called the root beer plant), ancho chiles and more. We said “yes” to the ancho chiles, which Gilleto wanted to flavor the stock, but we all tacitly agreed “no” on the pineapple.

One crew decorated their paella with julienned carrots. Another crew had help from one of their member’s grandmother, who hailed from the northern principality of Asturias, Spain.

bout 1,000 people, including families, turned out to the first paella cook-off.

Shelley Grieshaber, culinary director at the Pearl Brewery and CIA graduate, made her way from table to table doing the “color” interviews for the day. Johnny Hernandez, chef and owner of Pearl’s upcoming La Gloria restaurant, and driving force behind the cook-off, alternated roles between host and trouble shooter.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day,” said Grieshaber, who was excited at the success of the event.

San Antonio Food Bank culinary students were on hand to assist. Chef Rene Fernandez of Azuca made a huge paella prior to the contest to serve to the hungry masses. Other San Antonio chefs in the competition included Jason Dady, Dave Souter and Brian West, as well as a crew from the R.K. Group and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Ben Ford, right, shakes hands with a fellow chef after winning the paella cook-off.

Proceeds from ticket sales will be going toward scholarship opportunities at the CIA San Antonio to benefit local chefs.  A portion of proceeds will also go to the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Office of the Honorary Council to Spain for educational initiatives benefiting San Antonio students. H-E-B/Central Market were presenting sponsors of the community event, in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America.

It was a fun competition, and one we hope to see again next year.

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