Paella is just as popular in the Philippines as elsewhere. Although aficionados may argue about its authenticity, this recipe is an easy, one-pan meal that you can make without so much trouble (e.g. cooking outdoors, using a paellera).
Paella has lots of components to it but that is what makes it special – all different flavors coming together in one dish. It is great for entertaining a big group or scaled down (like in this recipe) to make a quite appealing meal on an uneventful day/night. Making paella comes across as work-intensive (what with all that beauty in one pan) but I have spelled out the essential elements I have found helpful in making a truly delicious one. This beautiful paella is a dish of super flavorful rice laden with chicken, chorizo, seafood, and vegetables, making that extra bit of time and work truly worthwhile.
PAN + HEAT SOURCE – A paellera is typically used in making paella. It is wide, flat, and shallow where rice spreads out in a thin layer, usually no thicker than half an inch. For this recipe, you will only need what you have available and the size of which your stovetop can accommodate so heat gets evenly distributed. I am using a 3.5-quart sauté pan.
RICE – Bomba, a plump short-grain rice is the most suggested choice for paella. However, I have not come across this variety in supermarkets around me. Instead, I have always used arborio (the same kind you use in risotto or rice pudding) in my paella. Unlike risotto or rice pudding, however, you don’t want it creamy so you want to avoid stirring while it cooks. You may also use another type of short/medium-grain rice (except sushi rice) but never long-grain rice. The rice should absorb the flavors from the stock and trimmings while staying separate and dry. Using the right variety of rice is key. After all, paella is a rice dish.
SOFRITO + SAFFRON – A blend of aromatics (garlic, onion, and tomatoes) sautéed, providing the flavor base to the paella. It is very basic but the key is to sauté until the flavors meld together. The mixture will darken and become paste-like when it’s ready. Saffron is then added to the mixture. Only a small pinch of saffron is needed (a little goes a long way).
STOCK/LIQUID – Store-bought chicken stock is always an easy option for me. Making stock out of shrimp shells is easy and delicious, too. The amount of liquid needed depends on the kind of rice you are using. Referring to the package instructions for the ratio of rice to water usually helps.
PROTEINS & VEGETABLES – With paella, rice is the star of the dish so any trimmings added to it are just “extras”. This recipe gets chicken and chorizo mixed in with the rice then topped off with seafood (of my choice) and vegetables (peas and peppers). Feel free to play around or use up what you have on hand. They can’t blame you for being inauthentic.
SOCARRAT – This is the crunchy caramelized layer of rice that forms on the bottom of the pan. A crust that enthusiasts consider “highly prized” or a “test” for an authentic paella. You can achieve this by turning up the heat the last few minutes of cooking when all the liquid has been absorbed. It should be toasty but not burnt. Or you may skip this part.
1 Spanish chorizo link (about 3 ounces; cut into small pieces)
½ lb chicken breast or thighs (cut into small pieces)
½ lb shrimp (deveined; shelled or unshelled)
10-12 Manila or littleneck clams (scrubbed)
1 medium yellow onion (minced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 cup ripe tomato (finely diced/pureed)
saffron, a small pinch (about 12 threads)
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups chicken stock
½ medium red bell pepper (cut into strips)
¼ cup peas (fresh or frozen)
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
Lemon slices (optional)
Italian parsley (optional)
1. Soak the saffron threads in a tablespoon of water (or white wine). This helps release the color and flavor.
2. Season chicken and shrimp with salt and pepper. Soak the clams in cold water then scrub.
3. Heat your skillet to medium-high heat (adjust, if necessary). Add a little olive oil. You may need to keep adding as you go along.
4. Start by browning the chorizo. Set aside.
5. Quickly sear the shrimp on both sides. Don’t cook it all the way. Set aside.
6. Brown the chicken quickly. Set aside.
7. Make the sofrito: Add garlic and onion, cook until softened. Add tomatoes. Season with some salt and pepper. Stir as needed and let the mixture cook through. This will take about 15 minutes. Be patient – this will give the paella a lot of its flavor. The mixture will become darker, thick and paste-like.
8. Add the rice and stir, coating each rice grain with the mixture.
9. Bring the chicken and chorizo back into the pan.
10. Add the broth and saffron soaked in liquid.
11. Stir the mixture thoroughly (this will be the last stir). Let it come to a boil.
12. Then nestle the clams in there.
13. Turn the heat down to low. Cover and let it cook, for about 45 minutes until the liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is cooked. Do not stir as you don’t want it creamy by agitating the rice.
14. Halfway through, add the shrimp, frozen peas, and peppers.
15. If this is important for you: work on the socarrat by turning up the heat the last 5 minutes to get that toasty bottom and leave it uncovered this time. Otherwise, just let all the liquid cook off uncovered.
16. Any clams that did not open, discard.
17. Squeeze a lemon and garnish with parsley.
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