Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paella with a new Accent

Every country has its own rice dish. Italy has risotto, Middle Eastern countries have their pilafs, India has biryani, China has fried rice, Japan has takikomi gohan, and Spain has paella. Paella was traditionally considered to be a working man's dish, a way to use up leftover ingredients. The word Paella means "pan" in Valencia originating from the Latin "patella," which means "pan." Traditionally in Valencia, paella was cooked over a fire in the field and usually included chicken, duck, rabbit, and snails, not seafood a rarity in Valencia.

On recent rainy day, Hiroko wanted to make a one-pan meal and decided it was time to make her first paella. And so following the original working men's dish tradition, we used whatever remained in the refrigerator...a reflection of Hiroko's flair for economizing. Rick searched through the crowded refrigerator and found some homemade chicken stock, a chicken breast, Spanish chorizo, tomatoes, and a half dozen or so unused fresh shrimp from previous day. Hiroko consulted Mark Bittman's recipe for paella, and set to work sautéeing the chicken. Once it had browned, she added minced garlic and onion, and cooked this mix until the vegetables were soft. She then added the chorizo, along with tomato paste, saffron, smoky Spanish pimenton, and....."just a bit more" paprika (Nigerian in this case) than the recipe called for. In fact, as Hiroko shook the paprika container (accidentally using the large rather than the smaller shaker-holed opening), a huge amount of the spicy powder spilled into the pot. The saffron tinted mix had morphed into a fiery red! "Whoops!" Suddenly, it had become an entirely new dish, paella a la Lagos!

Regaining her composure, Hiroko added the arborio rice, sautéed it until shiny, then added the stock and shrimp, and stirred all to mix the combined ingredients. Next, she placed tomato wedges on top of rice and put the pan in the oven to roast for 30 minutes.
When the rice was done, she turned off the oven, leaving the pan of rose-tinted paella inside to "rest" (and steam) for another 10 to15 minutes. Meanwhile, Hiroko prepared a salad while Rick selected a wine to accompany the meal. Just before serving, a sprinkling of chopped parsley was added and... it was time to eat.

The dish was wonderfully smoky and of course, spicy! The amount of Nigerian paprika didn't ruin the dish as we had feared, but it actually added a new dimension to it. The edge of the pan was nicely caramelized and resulting "burned" rice was toothsome and tasty. Rick chose a Licia 2006 Albarino from Galicia which offered a great balance of minerality, acidity and green apple fruit to compliment the acidity of the tomatoes and the smoky pimenton-influenced spicy flavor of rice.

We love spicy food and often seek it out both when we travel and at home. However, little did we expect that an "accidental overdose" of a spicy seasoning would result in the delicious discovery of a new way to make and enjoy an traditional, time-honored dish like paella!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sake Day with Friends

October 1st is Sake Day or Nihonshu no Hi in Japanese. Sake Day originated in 1978 when the Japan Sake Brewers Association declared it as a day to celebrate and promote the enjoyment of sake. The Chinese character for Sake is 酒, which is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster, 酉. This Rooster sign is the 10th sign. Hence, as the beginning of the tenth month, October 1st became Sake Day.

There are a number of sake tasting events taking place in NYC around Sake Day. Some are solely for the restaurant and retail trade but there are also several open to consumers. The largest and most comprehensive sake tasting opportunity for sake professionals, devotees, and neophytes was the annual Joy of Sake on 9/27. Created by Chris Pearce, the founder of World Sake International Imports based in Hawaii, the New York version of the event was held for the fourth year at The Puck Building in the East Village. This year, an amazing total of 302 sake from 142 breweries was presented. Of this total, about 100 were not yet available in the US. Confronted with this "surfeit of riches", we decided to first focus on the floor featuring the non-available sake. Even though this reduced our tasting universe by 67% we were still faced with a serious sake sampling to strategically approach this and gain the learning that we were seeking? We paced ourselves by segmenting our efforts to first taste the "gold award" winners (judged by a panel of experts prior to the event) and intermittently chatting with friends and new acquaintances who share our enthusiasm for nihonshu. We were delighted to see them and be in the company of so many other New Yorkers tasting and embracing sake for over three hours on a beautiful fall evening.

Coincidentally, our friend Melinda from Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass was visiting New York during the same week and we were fortunate enough to spend time with her. Along with recently annointed Sake Samurai Tim Sullivan from Urban Sake, we headed to Sake Bar Decibel for a midnight drink after dinner one evening. Even with full stomachs and a well fueled buzz, we still had the thirst to drink sake like salarymen in Tokyo. The fact that he had to work the next morning didn't dissuade Tim from joining us in the late evening hours for some of his favorite brews! Otsukare, Tim!

On the last evening of Melinda's visit, we had a dinner party for her at our favorite Greek restaurant, Snack Taverna in the West Village. Along with several of Melinda's other New York friends including Tim, we enjoyed the restaurant's gracious hospitality and an abundant feast of food and drink. Our most grateful thanks go out to our friend Adam Greene, the owner of Snack Taverna, who generously arranged the delicious assortment of mezedes, Greek salad, saganaki, and country sausage, followed by the restaurant's uniquely Greek style preparations of branzino, roast chicken, leg of lamb, stuffed peppers, baklava, sheep's milk yogurt, and rice pudding. As you might imagine, no one left hungry!

With or without sake, sharing drinks with friends is the spirit of Sake Day. We were fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds in celebration of Sake Day 2007!