Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beginner's luck

In keeping with Your Correspondent's theory that cooking is really just experimental science, and with my philosophy that if an experiment's worth doing it's worth doing once, dodgily, and published before anyone asks too many questions, we present a new semi-regular (if not highly irregular) series on the MoFo entitled Beginners' Luck, when unfamiliar dishes will be attempted for the first time and quasi-live-blogged in Almost Sort-Of Real Time so you can watch the disaster unfold before your very eyes.

I've always wanted to have a bash at a paella. As distinct from having a bash at a pinata. Anyway that's a shit joke so I'll move on. Paella is a Spanish rice dish, not too far from a risotto, which originated from the Valencia region which had the key ingredients of (a) nearby ricefields (b) sources of seafood (c) excess cured extract of pig and (d) the intent and willingness to combine the above in the pursuit of Culinary Win. You can make paella out of pretty much anything - other than cardboard or old car tyres, though some Spanish restaurants have presumably tried - but the most familiar form to most folks is the 'mixed' paella of seafood, chicken and pork. This is my shot at it - not necessarily what you should do, but what I did.

Key ingredient: paella rice, specifically known as calasparra or bomba rice, which is a very short grain rice originating from the Valencia region which can absorb three times its own volume in liquid. You'll probably have to go looking for it and it'll cost a bomb, but it's worth it. You could probably try substituting some other form of short grain rice instead, but only if you want to fuck it up.

Key weapon: the paella pan itself, a big fuck-off cast-iron jobbie designed to be fit for purpose. Which you won't have, so substitute any big fuck-off cast-iron pan, whether flat-bottomed or wok-shaped. Or anything big enough to take the volume. The following was attempted using an electric wok. Which limited one's options ref. finishing the bugger off in the oven, but you get that on the big jobs.

As ever, quantities are an estimate, a best guess or just a complete bodge.
500g paella rice (bomba or calasparra)
3 chorizo sausages (~160g) cut into chunks
300g chicken breast fillet, diced
300g bacon pieces - Kiwi bacon is less cured than Aust, any combo of cured oink would do (pork, bacon, pancetta, proscuitto etc)
400g prawns/shrimps, shelled and deveined, preferably precooked
500g (8-10) greenlip mussels in shell, precooked
2 cans whole cherry tomatoes in juice (any canned or fresh tomatoes will do)
1.5-2L liquid - made up (in this case) of:
500mL chicken stock
375mL fish stock
375mL dry white wine (used a NZ sauv blanc)
- plus the various liquid phases of the canned tomatoes, mussels etc
large handful fresh parsley, shopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic (~4 cloves of fresh stuff)
1 tsp crushed chilli (less if cooking for kids)
1 large red onion, chopped
1 each red and yellow capsicum, seeded and chopped into strips
tbsp each of paprika and thyme
2 tsp fresh oregano
100g frozen peas for colour
Vast quantities of GOOD olive oil. Spanish if you want to be picky about it

Battle plan
Panfry onion in decent splash (1/4 cup) olive oil, chilli and garlic until soft.

Add chicken, cook until just no longer pink.

Throw in bacon and chorizo, cook through.

Then likewise with capsicum.

Take this lot out of the pan and set aside. (Not essential, just makes getting the rice underway a bit easier.)

Add more oil (>100mL) and bomba rice. Sautee until rice is coated in oil and translucent.

Then add liquid - fish and chicken stock, white wine, juice from canned tomatoes, liquor from mussels.

Bring to low simmer.

Add meat/onions/capsicum mix, prawns, tomatoes, herbs, peas.

Keep on low heat while rice absorbs liquid. Will take 20-30 mins depending on temp.

Towards end of absorption add mussels and chopped parsley.

Be astonished at how much liquid this stuff can soak up.

Serve with lemon wedges, or if you can't be arsed with that, just whatever's left of the dry white.

Pretty bloody decent. Except the dry white, that was a bit arse. Though what do you want for six bucks a bottle on special at New World. Subbed off for something a bit less astringent.

Seems a pretty simple, robust sort of dish. Ingredients regimen could handle quite a bit of buggerising about with, so off you shoot and let me know how you get on.

The Doctor is OUT to sample more of the proceeds.


  1. It's like a simplified spanish risotto! Looks worth a bash.

  2. Turned out a lot simpler than I figured it was going to be. The only serious misjudgement was breaking the cardinal rule of cooking - never cook with wine you're not prepared to drink.

  3. I've had some ordinary paella's and wondered about the importance of the rice. You've inspired me to go in search of the real deal, or at least send my hubby out, who is the shopper/main cook.

  4. Sounds a plan, shall be attempting this marvel when I get around to being dragged, kicking and screaming to the shops.

  5. Matt Preston says the important bit in paella is the crust that forms on the bottom of the rice. He also wear crevats - so take that with several grains of whatever :P

  6. Yum. Can I put in a request for a Jambalaya next?

  7. The Wife - no idea how it'd turn out with conventional rice but I'm guessing wetter and thinner, without the creaminess and density you'd associate with paella. I dare say that if you're somewhere other than a white-bread Anglo stronghold like the deep south of NZ, paella-friendly rice is probably more broadly available and cheaper than it was here.

    Heidi - and it was! Made ridiculous amounts of the stuff too. Enough for dinner tonight too. For 2-3 people I'd suggest halving all volumes, other than the beer to lubricate the chef.

    DD - good luck with it - it actually looks reasonably difficult to make a hash of (famous last words)

    AJ - this is some MasterChef thing isn't it. Lost me. I think he's overcooking the thing a tad personally. And overegging the pudding if he's rocking the cravat in public.

    Abe - pretty much the same I suspect, just different rice and spice/herb profile. If I was still in south-east Qld reckon I'd do a seafood paella taking advantage of the plethora of good fresh seafood there (tends to be all pre-frozen stuff here other than the mussels) - sub out the meat for prawns, calamari, maybe some lightly smoked fish, and the chicken stock for fish stock.

  8. Wow...looks flavoursome.

  9. I can tell you exactly what happens when you don't use proper rice.
    Chicken flavoured sludge with meaty bits.
    At least I've got a name to hunt with now, Cheers Dr. Y.

  10. Looks fantastic - I tried making a chicken and chorizo paella once which was pretty delicious, but been too scared to try the whole seafood extravaganza. Well done!!

    I did however introduce Sweet Thang to Osso Bucco with lemon rissotto on the weekend and now have permission to make it a winter regular...

  11. By the way Jambalaya sounds pretty good too...

  12. Why do people live in cold places like Dunedin? Is it dogged Scottishness, or... I don't know. I've got links to Dunedin through my brother marrying a resident. And now he lives there too - half of his time anyway. I look at the temperature there on the weather channel and wonder at it. It's too bloody cold in my bit of South Australia at the moment, Dunedin, no thanks. We're all thinking of have Christmas there this year - that should be warm enough for me.

    Oh, loved your paella stuff too, except I don't eat fish or shellfish. Makes me puke.

  13. Thanks all. Having another crack at it just with seafood, probably in the slow cooker. Carolyn - married a Dunedin girl, that's how I ended up here. I figure no matter where you are you get six months of unpleasant weather - in Brisbane it was 35 degrees and dust storms, here it's five degrees and sleet. You can always put more clothes on after all.