Paella: pronounced (pie-aye-yuh) or as I like to call it (yuminess). Paella is a Spanish dish that is the rice equivalent to a fisherman's stew and served the same purpose in origin; take whatever meat and seafood you have and cook it with a bunch of other stuff to serve a large group. Many paellas are cooked with chicken and seafood and all are made with a saffron rice base. I am more partial to this chorizo version. It goes so nicely with the saffron and creates a sharp contrast to the seafood.
I first had paella at a Spanish restaurant in downtown Portland called Fernando's Hideaway. It has since closed and I began searching paella recipes until I found one that substituted a dry smoked paprika Spanish chorizo for the chicken. I had to try it and over time have perfected this flavorful dish which has since become my "signature dish" and will most likely be served if you come to my house for a large dinner party.
A note about saffron. This is the gold mine of spices and cost about as much. Saffron comes from the saffron crocus, a flower that is mainly grown in Asia and the Middle East. The red threadlike fronds are harvested from the stigma (center) of the flower and each flower only contains three stigmas each. Saffron is the most expensive spice by weight, but luckily they weigh so very little. I have had friends bring me back saffron from trips to Turkey and Asia. Otherwise, I buy it from Cost Plus World Market.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, veins and seeds removed and then chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 package smoked Spanish chorizo (like this one); slice into thin slices like pepperoni
1 T smoked paprika
1 T saffron fronds (.5 oz)
1/4 cup hot water
2 cups short grain rice such as Arborio or pearl
1 cup frozen green peas
1 32 oz container chicken broth
2 pounds any combination of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari or fish pieces
Heat oil in large paella pan over medium heat.*
Saute chopped onion, red pepper and garlic until onion is translucent and garlic releases its signature aroma.
Add sliced chorizo and continue to stir and saute until chorizo becomes a little crispy. Remove from heat.
Place saffron threads in small glass bowl, like a pyrex custard bowl. Pour very hot (but not boiling) water over saffron just until completely submerged. Let sit. This will allow the flavor and aroma to develop and release from the saffron. The water will start to turn a golden yellow.
Place rice in small holed strainer and rinse thoroughly to release most of the starch.
Return paella pan to medium heat. Add rinsed rice and stir until rice is completely coated in the oil and juices from the pan.
Add frozen peas and the saffron liquid and fronds to the rice. Stir once more.
Add the chicken broth. Stir once again to even out the ingredients. Do not stir again.
Cook until the liquid is reduced in half. Depending on your stove and the size of your pan, you may need to cook over two burners, rotating the pan every 5 minutes to even out the cooking.
Once the liquid is reduced to half, arrange the shellfish and seafood around the pan, inserting it deeply enough in the rice and liquid to be cooked.
Continue rotating pan as needed. You may need to cover the pan loosely with foil to keep some of the heat in to allow the seafood to cook.
Once the shellfish opens up and the fish or shrimp are no longer translucent, remove from heat and serve.
*Paella pans are thin flat bottomed steel pans with handles. Don't bother buying an expensive one from a fancy cooking store. I have a $90 pan from a specialty order store and a $15 pan from World Market. They look, feel and cook identical.