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!

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