Gulf Coast Cooking

Paella is a versatile recipe fit for local seafood

Paella is a Spanish dish that is accorded some fame, but the Spanish consider it a regional recipe from Valencia, an old city that had its origins as a Roman colony in 138 B.C.

Paella, in its first form, appeared after the introduction of rice to Spain by the Moors in the 15th century, but it has changed considerably since then.

The name, paella, itself comes from old French and means pan, and is still used by the people of Valencia to mean any pan, although a paella pan is unique. It is a round, metal pan that is shallow and has two handles for easy lifting on and off the fire. Purests consider it essential to making a correct paella and would never consider using any other style pan. They are not readily available, outside of specialty stores, so most of us will have to make do with a large sauté pan.

There are three basic recipes for paella, but there are endless adaptations by region. Basic paella is made with a combination of vegetables and meat cooked in saffron-infused rice. Traditionally it was cooked outside over a wood fire and the smoke played an important role, but that is not the case today.

In seafood paella the meat is left out and is replaced by combinations of shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams or mussels.

The third basic recipe is a combination of meat and seafood.

Given our proximity to the gulf, there isn't any reason that we can't devise a paella with a local touch and I have done so below. I have also tried to provide a few more healthy options, as my friend Myra Jones reminds me I can go a bit overboard with the fat and cream.

SEAFOOD PAELLA

2 cups shrimp/fish stock

1 cup rice

1 pinch saffron

6-8 frozen mussels (fresh if you can find them)

1 pound large shell on shrimp

4-6 squid rings

1/4 cup chopped onions

3-4 cloves crushed garlic

1/4 cup chopped tomato

1 pinch paprika

Make a seafood stock with the shells of the shrimp, a few pieces of leftover raw fish, 1 chopped onion, 6-8 crushed cloves of garlic, a bay leaf and 6-8 whole black pepper corns. Simmer gently for 1 hour, allow to cool and then strain. Discard the solids and reserve the stock.

Place the pinch of saffron in 1/3 cup of the stock and set aside. Sauté the onions for 6-8 minutes in olive oil, add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Remove the liquid from the tomatoes and add them to the sauté pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the mussels and cook over high heat until they open (if fresh) or just until warmed if frozen, then remove and set aside. Add the shrimp and the squid and cook until done and then remove them as well.

Add the rice and 2 cups of stock, along with the stock that has been infused with the saffron, season with the paprika and simmer until almost done.

Add the seafood and finish cooking. Taste and season as necessary.

Pair with a rose, Sancerre white or a Pouilly-Fumé.

MIXED PAELLA

2 cups chicken stock

1 pound peeled shrimp

3 chicken thighs

1/4 cup red and green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped onions

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

1 diced tomato, liquid removed

1 pinch saffron

1 cup rice

Place the saffron in the chicken stock and set aside. Simmer the chicken thighs in water until just done remove, cool then remove the meat from the bone into bit size pieces.

Sauté the onions and bell pepper in a little olive oil until tender, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes, then add the tomato and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the rice and stock and simmer until the rice is almost done, then add the chicken and shrimp and continue cooking until the rice is tender and the shrimp are done.

GULF PAELLA

If you are of Spanish descent or are a culinary purest, you may howl at this recipe. I apologize if I offend your sensibilities, but the recipe does work and is quite good.

1 cup rice

2 cups shrimp stock

1 pinch saffron

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup red bell pepper

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

1 chopped tomato

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 pound peeled shrimp

6-8 squid rings (fresh if possible)

2 boneless chicken thighs

1/2 cup chopped smoked sausage (optional)

1 electric rice cooker

Place the saffron in the stock and set aside. Sauté the onions, celery and bell pepper in olive oil until tender, add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 more minutes. Season the chicken thighs with black pepper and just a pinch of salt and sauté in olive oil until well browned and cooked through. In the same pan cook the shrimp and squid until done, set them aside. Sauté the sausage in the same pan until browned. Add the rice, stock, sautéed vegetables, peas, tomatoes, chicken and sausage to the rice cooker and cook until almost done, add the shrimp and squid and allow the cooker to finish the job.

The tomatoes may also be added at the end for a fresher finish. Cilantro or fresh basil may also be used as a garnish, but don't add them to the rice cooker as they will be cooked away and lose their appeal.

Serve with a cold bottle of Grüner Veltliner.

Julian Glenn Brunt, who has been a Mississippi Gulf Coast resident for more than 20 years, has a deep and abiding interest in art, culture and the culinary heritage of the South.

His column runs weekly in Taste. You can contact him at living@sunherald.com.

  Comments