It's been a month of firsts. It was my beloved's birthday, and he requested this dish. Well, maybe not requested. I gave him a list of options and paella was the only one he seemed vaguely intrigued by. I'd never tried cooking one before, but I was feeling bolstered from the risotto success a few weeks ago and thought another slow cooked rice dish shouldn't be too much of a challenge. I scoured online for a method to follow, but ended up cobbling together a recipe of my own creation taking inspiration from several sources, a few phone calls and a little common sense. Apologies if the photos are a little sketchy but you get the idea...
Saffron. My new favourite spice. I'd never cooked with it before and was a little trepidatious. Firstly, it's quite expensive, and I was worried I'd muck it up somehow. It comes in a tiny little package and has instructions about 'blooming' which sounds more complicated than it actually is. Secondly, I didn't really know what it tasted like or how much to use. How much is a 'pinch' anyway?
Well. Saffron is a very beautiful spice to cook with. The 'blooming' process gave me a feeling of something sacred and hallowed happening in my kitchen.
Apparently it's important to 'bloom' your saffron to maximise the colour you get from it. I felt a bit intimidated by the word but blooming is easy. Just add your saffron (I used a large 'pinch' for my paella for 6) to half a cup of warm (but not boiling) water and leave for 10 minutes. Add this to your stock and you're ready to go. Here's my saffron, mid-bloom.
Really beautiful. I wish I had a better camera so I could show you how gorgeous this process is. The orange colour gently leaks out of the strands, swirling down into the water and you end up with a luminous yellow brine.
Seafood Paella for 6-8 people:
2.5 cups (500g) paella rice
200g raw king prawns
300g raw mixed seafood (squid, prawns, mussels, whatever)
8 cups stock (I used half fish stock, half vegetable) - warm or room temp, not cold
Good pinch of saffron, bloomed in 1/2 cup of water
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, in chunks
1 green pepper, in chunks
Handful cherry tomatos, halved
2 good handfuls of green beans, sliced into inch-long pieces
6 inches of good chorizo sausage, sliced
2 spring onions
Pinch of chilli flakes
Large bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Bloom your saffron (instructions above) and add it to your stock.
Fry onion and garlic gently until the onion is translucent and soft. Add red and green pepper and beans and cook for a minute or two. Add the rice and stir until every grain is coated with oil. Cook the rice for 3 minutes in the oil. The grains may start to go pale, depending on the rice you are using.
Add the stock and leave to simmer over a medium heat for about 20 minutes - check the instructions on your rice for exact timing. Because I prefer my rice to have a bit of bite, I only put in 3/4 of my stock. I didn't want a sloppy paella. (I'm glad I did this because it was just perfect - the rice was soft but still had some bite - any more stock and it would have been too wet. I guess what I'm saying is, you have to use your instincts on a dish like this. Err on the side of safety if unsure.)
Important! Don't stir too much. The more you stir, the creamier it will get and will head towards risotto territory. Just stir occasionally to make sure it's not catching on the bottom.
While the rice is cooking... In another pan, quickly saute your seafood in 1 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes and a pinch of salt. 1-2 minutes over a medium high heat will do it. Don't overcook - you'll end up with chewy, fishy rubber. Not good. Put seafood and their juices to one side in bowl. In the same pan, quickly saute your chorizo and spring onions for 1-2 minutes.
When the rice is cooked, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the seafood and chorizo and their juices, cherry tomatoes and half the parsley. You can serve immediately or put it in a large dish with a lid in a medium/low oven until ready to take to the table. Serve with the rest of the parsley scattered on top and lemon wedges stuck into the rice.
Honesty = the best policy. Because I had two vegetarians to dinner (who eat seafood? Seems odd, but hey...) I left the chorizo on a side plate, and those who wanted could add it at the table. Those veggies are missing out. The chorizo really brought it to life. So there.