As the rest of Prague was gearing up for the England v. US World Cup soccer match, I was gearing up for an entirely different challenge. I was about to make paella, real paella, at home in my kitchen in Prague. I had made several half-hearted attempts at paella in the past using everything from packaged “saffron” rice (in college) to slightly more authentic chicken and rice pilafs a few years back. But I had never attempted a real, honest to goodness paella. All of that was about to change.
However, to begin, I needed an inspirational drink. Sangria was the perfect accompaniment. Unlike paella, I have made sangria a million times before. I’ve pretty much co-opted Fredericksburg Flash’s recipe that he’s been making since I was in diapers. I have yet to taste better sangria in all the world. Isn’t it interesting that a dentist from Nebraska holds the gold standard of sangria for pretty much everyone who has tasted it? I say, why mess with perfection?
So, with fruit cut and the delicious purple nectar providing just the right motivation, I began making the paella. Scampwalker and I had experienced Paella Valenciana in Valencia a little over a year ago. I was thoroughly impressed and I sought to make the base of the dish as close to the original as possible. However, because of my audience and geographic location, I was going to substitute a few ingredients. I used peas instead of green beans, threw in some chicken breasts instead of all bone-in chicken (I kept some drumsticks in for myself), no chorizo (because the only stuff we can get here adds too much spice) and shrimp instead of some other shellfish. I didn’t have access to any clams or mussels for this batch, either. I did have lots of saffron, though and I was pretty sure that could overcome any other shortcoming.
Looking for online recipes, I took the first one I could find. It was Alton Brown’s Paella recipe and it served as the base for my dish. I’ve found Brown to be a pretty consistent cook and his recipe had all the things I needed to serve as the base for my escapade. His recipe is pretty dense with instruction. He also uses a wood fire. I used the stove and a big, 15 inch Caphalon pan. I varied cooking a bit and this is a rough guide to what I did to make the dish.
Paella Valenciana (En Praga)
1 can peeled, chopped tomatoes
9 cups low-sodium chicken broth (heated in microwave)
3 cups short or medium-grain rice
20 threads saffron
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken legs and seasoned with S&P
2 chicken breasts, cubed and seasoned with S&P
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh green peas
15 Jumbo shrimp, peeled, tails on
Alton’s directions are much more thorough, but here are mine in a nutshell:
Heat oil on high. Add chicken and cook 12 minutes. Add peas, peppers, onions, garlic and cook 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until liquid is reduced, about 4 minutes. Add rice, saffron, salt, paprika, rosemary and cook one minute – stirring the whole time. Add 4 cups of heated broth. Stir only until rice is covered in broth and then don’t stir it again until it’s finished. Simmer on med-hi heat for 9 minutes. Add peas. Add another 4 cups of heated broth. Simmer another 4 minutes. Add shrimp on top. Simmer 3 minutes. With tongs, flip shrimp but don’t touch the rice! Simmer 6 minutes or until liquid looks almost gone.
Turn off heat. Cover loosely with a lid and let sit 15 minutes.
The result was one of the best paellas I’ve ever had in my life. Little NH gobbled it up like it was going out of style. Mrs. NH, when quizzed, only lamented the lack of chorizo and mussels. I agreed, but didn’t feel too bad about it as I shoveled delicious fork full after fork full into my mouth.
We finished off the meal with a couple glasses of slightly-chilled Oloroso Sherry. The nutty, toffee sweetness was the perfect finish to a perfect meal.
As an American taking on a very non-American dish, I fared better than the US against England this evening. Whereas the US footie team was luck to eke out a draw, my challenge in the kitchen produced a huge win.