Tonight, Karen writes about our most recent cooking experiment: paella.
Growing up, I never celebrated Christmas or waited for Santa Claus to come down the chimney bearing gifts (instead I partied with Hanukkah Harry over eight glorious nights). Late December wouldn’t mean much for me if not for the unique New Year’s Eve celebration cooked up by my parents.
It all started innocently enough. When my brothers and I were young, my parents went out and celebrated New Year’s Eve in the traditional manner. They hated it. Paying exorbitant prices for the same entertainment they could get on any normal night of the year, worrying about drunk drivers, and leaving the kids back home was not their style. So they decided to defy tradition and do up New Year’s Eve their way.
And thus was born the New Year’s Eve family feast. Meals generally started around 7ish and the final course never finished before midnight. Dick Clark was often on in the background and the menu was always gut busting. Hors d'oeuvres were varied and plentiful and included rumaki, cheese, chips, artichoke dip, spareribs, and cheese puffs. The appetizer was usually shrimp cocktail (with homemade cocktail sauce). Paella stole the show as the main course (although in later years Beef Wellington was sometimes served). Without fail, dessert was a layered parfait of fruit, whip cream, and nuts. In true celebratory fashion, sparkling wine was free flowing for all. In our younger days we were served the sweet goodness of Asti Spumanti (until we grew up and learned to appreciate finer champagne).
Thanks to the New Year’s festivities, paella holds a special place in my heart. So it came as little surprise that among the gifts my parents brought from a recent visit to Spain was the Spanish Bar and Restaurant Cooking cookbook full of paella, tapas, and sangria recipes. Taking the hint, Loren and I decided we should get down to business and cook up a storm.
We decided on a paella mixta (mixed seafood, sausage, and chicken) with serrano ham added in for good measure. The recipe was fairly extensive and included clams, garlic, onions, tomato, red pepper, olive oil, chicken, paprika, rosemary, thyme, cumin, rice, chicken broth, saffron, chorizo, shrimp, and capers. We seasoned and browned the chicken as well as the garlic, onions, tomato, and pepper. Then we sautéed the rice, added the chicken broth, and sprinkled in the saffron. Here was our first mistake - we used saffron threads but did not steep them first. As a result, the paella never got that deep yellow color we were expecting.
Next we were to transfer the rice into a paella pan (which we didn’t have) and mix in all the other ingredients. I don’t think we were prepared for the massive quantity of food resulting from the recipe but did the best to distribute among the closest paella type pans we did have. We then baked the paella in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven and waited. Here was mistake number two - we needed to bake the paella far longer than the recipe indicated (probably because we were using two pans). Initially the rice seemed hard and as if it would never fully cook. But our patience was eventually rewarded and we took the paella out to finish on a high heat on top of the stove to crisp up the rice and create the socarrat - the crisp, caramelized, golden rice that sticks to the base and sides of the pan. In attempting to create this toasty goodness we made our last mistake - the aroma of toasted rice coming from the pan signals a socarrat has been achieved. The point between socarrat and burn is slim, we ignored the smell and left the pan on high heat a touch too long. The rice and paella were still edible but just not perfect.
Here in all glory is our first attempt at paella. While no new traditions have yet to be born, I am sure we’ll be trying this again soon.
Posted by Karen