Paella is a family feast that’s not as hard as it looks

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I have a lot of pots and pans, probably double that of the average person. One of my most cherished is a paella pan given to me by my mother-in-law. Bright yellow enamelware, it was the inspiration to make my first paella.

Now a benchmark of Spanish cuisine, paella began from humble origins. It originated in the Valencia region of Spain, where it was cooked by farm workers over a wood fire for the lunchtime meal. They combined rice with whatever vegetables and game were available. Rabbit was often a frequent addition.

As the dish became more upscale, chicken replaced the rabbit and seafood was added. Keeping with its Moorish origins, saffron became the flavor of choice. Nowadays, there are as many recipes for paella as there are cooks.

Recipes may vary, but the cooking technique remains the same. Rice is combined with an aromatic mixture of cooked onions and tomatoes called a sofrito. The rice mixture is then spread on a wide, low-sided pan and cooked in an oven. If you don’t own a paella pan, a large cast iron skillet or lasagna pan will also work.

Although the list of ingredients might at first seem daunting, the dish can be mostly prepared ahead of time. When served with a salad, no other side dishes are required.

Especially during the holiday season, paella is a festive dish meant to be eaten with family and friends. The recipe below will feed six to eight people. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients according to your family’s preferences.

Paella might look like an intimidating dish to assemble, but it comes together fairly easily. Having a large oven-safe dish is key.

Paella

  • 6 large shrimp
  • 6 mussels
  • 6 clams
  • A 3-pound chicken, cut into 12 pieces
  • ½ cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces pork, cut in ¼ -inch pieces
  • ½ cup onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red sweet pepper, cut into thin strips about 1½ inches long
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups long grain rice
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed saffron soaked in ¼ cup hot water
  • ½ cup peas, defrosted

Shell and devein the shrimp. Scrub the mussels and clams. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Season the chicken with salt and a few grindings of pepper. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down. Using tongs to turn the pieces, cook until the pieces are browned all over. Set aside.

To make the sofrito, discard all the fat in the skillet and add remaining ¼ cup olive oil. Add the pork and brown it quickly. Add the onions, garlic, pepper strips and tomato. Stirring constantly, cook until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated.

About a half hour before you plan to serve the paella, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a 14-inch paella pan or large casserole pan, mix the rice with the sofrito. Pour in the boiling water, salt and saffron, and mix well.

Arrange the seafood and chicken pieces on top of the rice, and scatter the peas at random. Cook uncovered on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

When the paella is done, remove it from the oven and drape a kitchen towel loosely over the top. Let rest for 5 to 8 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.