I was never really into the Groupons, Googley offers, Living anti-social deals, and Pop Sugar’s of the world. In fact, I feel like 99.99% of them are only good for two things: helping me feel better about the fact that I don’t get as many personal emails as I did in college (probably because I’m fat!) and for lining the bottom of my digital trashcan.
And then one day you get a good one, like the Yelp deal we bought from Cook With James. It took us almost a year to use it, but it sooo worth the wait. What a treat it was to choose a three course Italian or Spanish meal to cook in someone else’s well-stocked, practically professional, kitchen…well when I phrase it like that I can see how it wouldn’t sound as indulgent as it was, since we had to do a lot of the work, but if you like cooking that’s less of a chore than it seems. Here’s the thing, James is a professional chef, cooking coach, and food writer. Check out his new site Eat With James, which is all about eating and entertaining in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. He opens his Cole Valley home up to small parties and large groups of people interested in having fun in the kitchen while learning how to make a gourmet and delicious meal. Since I know so little about cooking with Spanish ingredients, we picked the Paella class.
The meal consisted of some roasted Padron peppers in olive oil and crystalized salt, which is my new favorite starter. It’s simple, quick, healthy, and full of a mellow peppery heat.
Then we started the Paella. I was surprised at how easy it was to make since I’ve always thought of it as a dish that requires a lot of work and hours of patience, which I lack on occasion. It really wasn’t difficult at all. I don’t think it required a whole lot of technique come to think of it, and it was bursting with the rich Spanish flavors of saffron and pimenton (which is just a Spanish style paprika that comes in various spice levels-mild, medium, hot- and/or smoked).
And after about a 45 mins lesson where we actually made the Paella with James and enjoyed a nice Spanish red wine, we got to sit down at a candle-lit dining room table where James served us the fruits of our labor before heading back into the kitchen to clean the dishes!
After the meal he brought out our dessert, which was two slices of chilled Quesada , which is pretty much the Spanish version of a sweet noodle kugle…sans the noodles. James finished it off with some powdered sugar and some slices of sweet plum.
The night was a blast and the next day I went out and purchased an 18 inch carbon steel Paella pan! Here’s how to make it.
This is a classic Spanish Paella (or short grain rice) dish originating from Valencia Spain. The best part about this dish, is that you can add anything you want to it: seafood, shellfish, chicken, rabbit, sausage, veggies, you name it.
Similar to making a risotto, you’re going to be creating a flavor base and add more liquid over time, until you end up with a moist, and yet dry, rice stew. You need to use Paella rice for this dish, because the hearty short grains can absorb a lot of liquid. There are several kinds out there, each a little different, but as long as the package says “Paella” on it you’ll be fine.
Spanish Paella with chicken thighs and italian sausage
*recipe serves 4-6 depending on portion size
- 1 paellera (18 to 20 inches in diameter) made of carbon steel or similar size cast iron pan (the type of pan is critical for creating the burnt crust aka La Soccarat on the bottom of the dish that you serve when it’s ready.
- Good extra virgin olive oil (ideally from Spain)
- 2 tblsp of hot or smoked pimenton (a Spanish paprika that will probably say Picante on it)
- ½ large white onion, finely chopped
- 2 quarts of homemade chicken stock (you can use store bought broth but it should be low sodium….even better, purchase the chicken broth fresh from the butcher or grocer)
- 5-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, lightly salted & browned a little on one side and then reserved on the side for later.
- ½ tblsp saffron threads
- ½ lb Romano or green beans cut into 2 inch pieces
- 3-4 mild Italian sausages (brown these off separately like the chicken thighs but do not cook all the way through)
- 1 lemon thinly sliced for garnish
- 1 cup early girl tomatoes, roughly chopped (if tomatoes are out of season use ¾ cup canned Spanish or San Marzano tomatoes crushed roughly with your hands
- 1 ¾ cups of “bomba” Spanish rice (or Paella rice)
- flat Italian leaf parsley for garnish
Heat your pan on high heat on the stovetop and add 1.5 tblsp of good olive oil. Brown chicken thighs and sausages for 1-2 minutes not cooking all the way through (sausage on all sides, and chicken on one side only) and set aside.
Wipe your pan with a paper towel and heat it again on high heat until practically smoking. Add in 2 tblsp of olive oil. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and sauté until soft. If the onions start to burn turn down the heat and drizzle in more olive oil.
Once soft and translucent (1-2 minutes) add tomatoes followed by the pimenton and saffron (make sure you add the saffron to an area of the pan were there’s some liquid from the tomatoes so it permeates all the ingredients and doesn’t burn. Add salt, stir to combine and continue cooking for another minute. Turn the heat back up to high if you had it down. This mixture is called the soffrito.
Pour in all of the rice and stir, allowing the rice to absorb the flavors of the soffrito for 1-2 minutes while the rice toasts a little.
Add the stock to just cover the rice and bring to a boil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, adding more stock as needed.
Add the chicken (brown side up).
Continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes, tasting the rice to check it’s progress and adding more stock as needed. Add 1-2 inch pieces of the sausage evenly spread around the dish. You don’t want to stir the contents of the pan at this point, so you can shake the pan or spin it a little to mix things.
You don’t want to disturb the bottom of the pan, because from this point on, we want some of the rice to burn evenly a little on the bottom of the paellera and we don’t want the blackened parts to get mixed into the dish. The rice will taste almost cooked through (30-40 minutes into the total cooking process) and that’s when you can add the green beans on top. STOP ADDING STOCK.
Continue cooking until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice looks “sticky.” Be sure to taste and add a little salt as needed. Continue cooking on low heat until you begin to smell a slight “burning.” The “socorrat” is developing, that’s the blackened part on the bottom of the dish, and allow this cook for a few more minutes and then turn off the heat. Squirt some fresh lemon juice (about 2 tsp) over the top and garnish with sliced lemon pieces placing evening every few inches around the edge of the dish.
Off the heat, cover the paella dish loosely with a clean dry dish towel and let the dish rest for 15 minutes. You want the steam to be able to escape the towel. During this time is when most delicate proteins like scallops and shrimp would finish cooking so make sure they’ve cooked for a minute or two on one side before turning them and letting them steam under the towel.
Garnish with the flat leaf parsley, and serve the pan family style at the table and scoop up servings making sure you scrape the charred socorrat on the bottom, because that is full of flavor.
This is a copy of a version I made a few weeks later with green beans and not wax beans:
Here’s a version I made with scallops, shrimp, and roasted peppers and garlic chicken sausage.
- If you’re going to add shellfish or any seafood for that matter, make sure you’re adding it towards the end of the cooking process, because seafood doesn’t need as much time to cook as sausages or chicken thighs. Scallops and or shrimp should be added a few minutes before you take the pan off the heat, and turn then over before letting the dish steam under a dish towel and they’ll be cooked perfectly when ready to serve.
- Instead of green beans you can add asparagus.
- Chicken thighs are preferred because they have more flavor and fat (it’s dark meat) which means it will stay moist in the dish and add a lot of flavor. Not to mention they’re thinner and cook faster than full breasts of chicken.
- You can add chicken legs and wings if you’d like, but eating around bones may or may not be what you’re going for.