Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Is there really such a thing as a purist? I keep reading in "Catalan Cuisine" by Coleman Andrews about the ultimate authentic paella. As if there were such a thing as an ultimate Any Dish. As if there is the ultimate application of heat, spice, oil, onions, garlic, ingredients to make a paella THE paella. Is it paella when there's no rabbit in it? What happens to vegetable paella? Is that really a paella? And what the hell is paella doing in a book about Catalan cooking when its a Valencia region specialty?
Conventional wisdom about legendary paellas says they have to be cooked over an open fire on the beach. The rabbit must be grilled to perfection before put into a paella, which needs the smokiness of the rabbit to be authentic. No peas. Beans. Green beans for authentic Valenciana. Feh.
I think folks who proffer opinions about what is the right, best, appropriate, perfect version of a dish are as crazy as, well, crazy as me. That's ok with me. With advancements in online publishing, now everyone has a pulpit from which to proclaim the relative merits of a dish and how its made, what ingredients are in it, and even the geneology of the cooks making it.
So in the bright, limitless world of virtual, I stand today, pontificating my heart out about paella and other pressing matters of the state of the senses.
I once heard that an opera house in a big city recently had a $75 million dollar facelift, which included a $1,500,000.00 stage curtain replacement. The fabric and fringe of that curtain was of a certain type and standard produced solely by a convent of blind nuns sequestered somewhere in the Alps. Does that make that curtain authentic, rare and valuable? Yes. Does it make it very expensive? Yes yes. Does it promise to bring more prestige and commerce to the isolated area by promoting its rarity and prestige? Triple yessicas!!
There's no such thing as a purist. I think the purist throughout history is really just someone with a big mouth who opined about things, and in this instance about recipes in particular, and who had the vehicle to do it with. They also had as a willing band of co-conspirators, compatriots ready to agree with their opinion, and be vocal about theirs. And everyone of them had their own vested interest and personal tastes in mind.
So there you go. In the world of paella superlatives, started as early as the 8th century when the Moors first brought rice to Spain, it is this humble author's opinion that the superduper superlative paella was, is, and will always be an experience in relativism based on your available ingredients. And if you could make the rice good. Or you're visiting the Valencia region.
All the rest is marketing.
Serves 4-6 as a main course
15-20 fresh shrimp
1/2 lb New Zealand mussels, fresh
2 Spanish chorizo or good quality linguica sausage, sliced diagonally at 1/4" thick
1 whole chicken (marinated with minced garlic, salt and pepper and Spanish agridulce paprika)
2 onions, chopped
4-15 cloves of garlic, minced (depending on taste/preference)
3 - 4 c. chicken broth
2 c. valenciana rice (calrose or any short grain rice will also do)
1 pkg. frozen peas
two pinches whole saffron
2 TBsp. white wine
Roast chicken at 375 until about done. (1 hour, 20 minutes). Turn off heat and let rest in oven. Soak saffron in wine to allow it to bloom.
In a large flat paella pan or wide skillet or saute pan, saute onions in olive oil until golden. Add sausage and cook through. Add rice and garlic. Let rice absorb flavors of the savories and meat, coating in hot oil until rice kernels are opaque. Don't let the garlic burn.
Pour in the broth and saffron wine mixture and stir to incorporate. Let simmer at medium/medium low heat to let rice absorb the liquid. Just before all the liquid is absorbed, and the rice kernels have just a LITTLE bite left, add the fresh shrimp and peas. Cover tightly with foil and continue to cook at low heat for another five more minutes. Turn off heat completely and let rest.
Cook mussels in ungreased cast iron skillet until opened. Turn off heat and reserve any pot liquor. Cut up chicken into serving-sized pieces. Arrange chicken pieces over the paella, then add the mussels and pour in the pot liquor. Serve, enjoy.
And come up with your own damn version of this recipe. This one happened to work for me.