Spoonin' some slurpy stuff about the world's drippiest drool

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Smoked Mixed Paella

My parents were always creatures of habit.  They went to the same restaurant for lunch every day (Anchor Inn, in Wheaton, MD), sat with the same friends every day and modified everything they ordered from the menu, every day.  We used to laugh, and call them the modifiers.  So did the waitresses.  Now that I am in my fifties, I understand.  Completely.  Whether it is dietary, culinary or simply a desire to control a specific facet of ones life, I get it.  At this point, wherever possible, I would like to have things (especially food) the way I like.

Same thing goes for cooking.  I started with a perfectly good recipe for Grilled Lobster Paella.  It is on Epicurious.com - very easy to find.  But this time modifications were required, for several reasons. One, it has been really cold, and grilling outside did not have much allure.  Two, Harris Teeter did not have live lobsters, and the idea of building an entire dinner around someone else's cooking made me cranky, and reasons three to infinity - one of my favorite people on the planet was visiting and was joining us for dinner. Therefore, the old standby paella recipe got a makeover.  

First of all, a bit about paella.   

  • Paella originated in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain.  Typically, there are three types of paella -Valencian  (rice, green vegetables, rabbit, chicken, duck , snails beans and seasoning), seafood (no meat, snails, beans or green vegetables) and mixed (all of the above, in one combination or another).  The key seasoning is saffron.
  • March 27th is National Paella Day.  Good thing - if it was March 14th, it would get very confusing.  (Belated Happy Pi Day, by the way).
  • The name comes from Latin for Pan or dish.
  • And... A Valencian restaurateur claims to have made the world's largest paella - feeding 110,000 people.  

So, how do you improve an already excellent recipe?  One ingredient at a time.  And, one process at a time.  At the heart of this recipe is the smokiness imparted by the grill.  This was easily solved by cold smoking the seafood.  Cold smoking does not cook the meat, it simply imparts the smoke flavor.  I used applewood in my smoker, and since it is a pressure cooker/smoker, the whole process took 15 minutes per batch.

The seafood used was determined by what looked best at the supermarket.  Shrimp, baby octopus, cherrystone clams were easy choices.  The precooked whole lobsters did not overwhelm me, but they came home with us as well - their value was not as much about their meat, but the delicious little bodies and shells, flavoring the paella cooking liquid.

Finally, the original recipe called for green garlic stalks or leeks.  I did not have access to green garlic, and I did not want the subdued flavor of leeks, so breath be damned, a head of garlic was added. The final recipe is below.

Next question - dessert.  You're probably thinking, well, duh. flan.  Yeah, that's fine - a pain in the neck, but delicious.  We cheated, and bought pre-made individual flans with caramel topping in a martini "glass".  However, the coup de grace, were the chocolate mousse flavored Peeps.  Need I say more?

Here is the final recipe:
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound Spanish chorizo, sliced into 1/2"-thick rounds
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled, separated into cloves and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) of smoked paprika
  • 2 1/2 cups short-grain rice (such as bomba, Valencia, or calasparra) -I could not find any of the brands listed, did not want the starchiness of sushi rice, so arborio rice was a decent substitute. The crust did not get as crunchy as I would have liked, but otherwise, it was fine.  
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (I may have used 1/2 tsp)
  • 7 cups hot seafood stock 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 lb large shrimp
  • 1 lb baby octopus
  • 2 dozen cherrystone clams
  • 3 1 1/4lb precooked whole lobsters - if you can get live lobsters, great.  Nothing over 1 1/4 lb or the meat will be tough and not as sweet
  • 2 cups shelled peas or frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 halved lemons


Separate the lobster tails and claws from the lobster bodies.  Crack the claws and cut the tails in half. Remove the shrimp from their shells, and place the shells and lobster bodies in a saucepan.   Cover with water (about 10 cups), bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer.

Meanwhile, cold smoke the shrimp, octopus and lobster.  When done, remove the meat from the lobster tails and claws and add the shells to the simmering seafood stock - add water if necessary.  Set all of the smoked seafood aside.

Heat 1/2 cup olive oil. Add chorizo, and garlic cook until golden, 3–4 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon smoked paprika and 2 1/2 cups short-grain rice, cook, stirring often, until rice is coated, 2 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads to the hot seafood stock. Add 7 cups of stock to the pan and season to taste with kosher salt; stir to distribute ingredients. Let cook, undisturbed, until stock simmers and rice begins to absorb liquid, about 10 minutes. Rotate pan every 2–3 minutes to cook evenly.

Nestle the octopus, shrimp and clams over the rice. If you used live lobsters, add the lobster meat as well.  Continue cooking, rotating the pan often, as the rice swells and absorbs the stock.  Cook until the rice is almost tender and the lobster is cooked through, about 10 more minutes.

Scatter 2 cups shelled peas or frozen peas, thawed, on top. (If the liquid evaporates before the rice is tender, add more hot stock.) Cook without stirring, allowing rice to absorb all of the liquid, so that a crust (the socarrat) develops on the bottom and the edges begin to dry out and get crusty, 5–10 minutes, for a total cooking time of about 40 minutes.  (If using precooked lobster, add towards the end to reheat).

Remove pan from grill. Cover with large clean kitchen towels and let rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and serve with 3 halved lemons, making sure to scrape some of the socarrat from the bottom of the pan onto each plate.

Whether eaten on Pi Day, National Paella Day or any other day, you just can't go wrong with a pan full of this Spanish treasure.

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