Thursday, October 9, 2008

Recipe: Chicken and Chourico Paella

My indoctrination to good paella came at the hands of a chef at a resort I was a guest at in the Dominican Republic. Every day at lunch and dinner he would prepare a different variation of the dish that was both attractive and delicious. During one afternoon of my stay, he gave a demonstration on how to cook it and I jumped at the opportunity and I have never looked back.

Paella, much like chili and some other foods, has its passionate followers and I have become one. Its ingredients are not complex and its preparation is straightforward. However, (and in Zen-like fashion) when prepared correctly the dish transcends its humble beginnings by creating a harmony between its ingredients and attaining something quite special, and wholly greater than the sum of its parts (wow, that was awesome, for a moment I felt like a real writer).

Of course variations abound and so do schools of thought. Many paellas you'll find in restaurants are primarily seafood-based affairs. They range from the quite good, to excellent and authentic, to hollow counterfeit products from chefs who know little and think you know even less. Authenticity aside, I have personally seen variations calling for ingredients as varied as rabbit and land snails. Commonly, you'll see chicken, sausage, shrimp, lobster, squid, mussels, clams and just about anything else. The bottom line is that it really doesn't matter what you put in your paella, just that you cover the basics. In the photo above is a paella I made with all the ingredients below, plus the addition of serveral kinds of seafood.

Two of those basics that I will highly recommend are high quality saffron threads and the purchase of a genuine, Spanish-made, carbon steel paella pan. I’ve read cookbooks that say you can cook paella in any shallow and wide pan but I say differently. They are wrong! The biggest difference I noticed in my paella cooking experience was the introduction of my authentic Spanish-made paella pan. Let’s face it, if you’re not prepared to take this seriously you might as well just buy a boxed paella and microwave it.

Now, don’t buy the high-priced hype about saffron OK? Also, don’t buy it at your supermarket or ANYWHERE they sell it by the gram! It is usually of a lesser quality and dramatically overpriced. There are plenty of sources where an ounce of high quality saffron threads can be had for the same price as several grams at your supermarket, (Read a post about my favorite saffron supplier).

If you can't get chourico (you're bumming), no, just use any spicy sausage and add a few teaspoons of paprika. Also, if you want some seafood in it, go on and add it. I do! It is an easy dish to cook and people are drawn to watch it being prepared. Experiment a little and you'll be an aficionado in no time and a member of the ageless, secret society of paella preparers and mystics.

Chicken & Chourico Paella

(Serves 8, use an 18" paella pan)
6-8 cups of chicken broth
1 tsp saffron threads steeped in water overnight
4 boneless chicken breasts (cubed)
Olive oil
2 tsp dry oregano
10 cloves of garlic (minced)
5 large shallots (chopped)
2 lbs of chourico (sliced in 1/4" pieces)
1 28 oz can of tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes)
2 red peppers (cut into thin slices)
2 green peppers (cut into thin slices)
2 cups of green beans cut in 1" lengths
4 cups of rice (arborio preferred)
1 box of frozen peas
Salt & pepper to taste

In a saucepan prepare the chicken broth, bring to simmer and add saffron and liquid. Add black pepper to taste. Keep just below a simmer.

Place chicken, garlic, oregano in a bowl, add 2 Tbs of olive oil and mix well. Place aside for about 10-15 minutes.

Place a paella pan on burner and preheat. Add a little olive oil to pan. When oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken mixture and cook, stirring often until 3/4 done.

Add shallots and cook until they begin to brown.

Then add peppers, chourico, green beans and tomatoes. Stir frequently until vegetables begin to soften.

Add rice by sprinkling evenly over the mix.

Add a few cups of broth to mixture and blend in. Bring it too a simmer. From this point on, DO NOT stir the mixture any more.

Add frozen peas to top of mixture, DO NOT mix in.

Keep adding broth. Let mix simmer, continually replace liquid as it evaporates until the rice begins to get tender. When the rice starts to get tender, stop adding the broth. (If you run out of broth before the rice is tender, you can supplement the paella with warm water.)

Paella is complete when moisture is completely absorbed, mixture thickens and paella caramelizes slightly on the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat. Cover with foil and towels and allow the flavors to meld for about 10 minutes.

Serve family style.

Recipe: Chicken and Chourico Paella by Henry Krauzyk from Chop Onions, Boil Water

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