Our First Paella

No recipe today. Just an exuberant rejoicing that finally, finally, we have managed paella! So please pardon me while I say...yay!!!

We have been wanting to make paella for a long time now. Well, C wanted to. Too many people in my family make paella, and make it well, that I never felt I had to...or perhaps I was always too scared to try for that very same reason. But C loves paella and every time we have some, or pass a paellera in a store, or one of my uncles talks about cooking one; his enthusiasm to make our own grew. It was a foregone conclusion that C would be the skipper in our paella adventure...I always believed that cooking was about passion and C has more passion for paella than I do, truth be told. So for this dish, I was to ride sous.

The road to paella wasn’t a short one. We started preparations through the most obvious route – harvesting the knowledge and collective years of paella-making experience from my mom and uncles. We badgered them with questions, and C stood by and watched while they did their magic. We once rushed from out of town to be extra early for a family lunch, so C could stand in a smoky kitchen taking mental notes while my godfather (whose paella in my humble opinion is one of the tastiest I’ve ever tried) made his paella.

Now, it must be said at this point, that none of my family have a recipe for paella – it’s all by feel. They have their techniques (the secret’s in the stock), their ratios (liquid to rice), their timing (when al dente, stop heat, cover paella, take a shower, it’ll be done when you are), which we somehow patched together to make our own roadmap. Armed with a small/medium paellera we found, that perfectly fits out biggest stove-top burner, we were finally ready.

Like I said, no recipe yet. As this was our first try, nothing is set in stone. And perhaps, as we learned by feel, a rough sketch (continually being tweaked by necessity or mood) is all we will ever have. This is how it went (more or less)...

We used seafood (which is the flavour we like) and chorizo (to add punch). I bought prawns, squid, fish, and clams. Cooked the clams in garlic, parsley, and wine – saved the liquid from this for the stock. Made a fish stock from some bones I had in the freezer. In the paellera we heated olive oil, cooked chorizo until the nice orange oil was rendered, set chorizo aside. Added chopped garlic, onions, parsley (including stems!) to the pan and sauté until onion is soft. Cooked seafood one by one (squid, prawns, fish) and removed from pan. Added pimenton and some paella spice mix to the onions and fried a bit. Deglazed pan with wine. Added rice and sautéed. Added stock, smoothed surface and let cook...mind that it doesn’t dry out! When it would look too dry but the rice was still raw we added a bit more stock. If it looked to be drying up too fast we would lay some foil across the top. When it was almost done we placed the seafood and chorizo back in the pan and added some roasted red pepper on top...then cooked until it was finally done!

Whew! We couldn’t believe our eyes...it looked and smelled just like paella! And as we sat down to our (late) lunch and had our first mouthful we sighed happily...it tasted like paella too! In fact it was not half bad for a first attempt if you would be so kind as to let me say so :) It did not lack for seafood flavour and the rice was cooked through well (something which I was worried about). My mom stopped by to have lunch with us so we have a witness!

Some little mishaps: If you hadn’t already noticed I used too much rice! The pan was almost in danger of overflowing...lesson learned for next time. Also, my clams were sandy so we couldn’t use all of it and I had to strain the stock a million times through paper towels (sorry Earth!) :(

This was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon – creating something delicious with someone you care about. Enjoying your success with a wonderful meal and lots of high-fives and “go team!”. There are many milestones in a partnership. Different couples will mark different events as important on their conjugal calendar. This paella is definitely one of those for us!