Short Cut to Spain: A Quicker Paella

By Reba Ray

Long time ago, I lived fer a spell in Spain and the food, Francoly, surprised me! Being a big fan of Mexican cuisine, I had fooled myself into thinkin’ the motherland’s food might bear some resemblance. But those of you who have been spent any serious time in Spain know differently. One thing Spanish cuisine does seem to have in common with Mexican cuisine is that they don’t waste any part of the holy cow! I never will forget that time my host mom served me brains. And tongue. And parts I can’t mention without blushin’! Once I asked someone why these odd bull parts are so highly regarded in Spanish cuisine and the reply was, “Because the bull has only one of them.” Well, there you have it! Serve me a tail!

Not to worry, there’s actually a lot more amazing food served up in the Iberian Peninsula that’s completely free of bull! One of my favorite dishes there was paella, which is a variation of the universal theme of chicken and rice, this time with some seafood thrown in. Now you should know that Spaniards take great pride in their cuisine and making paella has a certain protocol and procedure from which no self-respectin’ Spanish housewife would dare deviate. And my own inculcation was such that for nigh 20 years, I so revered the making of paella that I refused to even attempt it! (That, and the price of saffron, always put me off.) But one particularly irreverent day, as I was walkin’ through Walmart, I spotted a rice mixture with real saffron added and it was pretty cheap to boot! The mixture also includes just the right seasonin’, cuttin’ the time and ingredients way down. So began my shortcut to Spain. Later I routed roasting red peppers and using fresh seafood too – without noticeable change in taste to this American.

In my version, I have done away with the chorizo and chicken, also to save time; but I’ll note how you can add it back in if ya want. In Spain, paella has a variety in the seafood. Most grocers sell a bag of chopped seafood that includes octopus and squid as main ingredients. Feel free to put any ole seafood you like in there. As long as you have somethin’ like mussels or clams that give it the salty ocean taste, you’ll be in Spain upon first bite.

You don’t need a paella pan to make this. If you don’t have one, or a skillet that’s oven-proof to 425 degrees, then just transfer it all into an oven-safe pan before baking. Serves six with a loaf of French bread (a travesty, but who can find Spanish bread?).

One package yellow Spanish rice mix (not red Spanish rice!)

Olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup roasted red peppers

1 cup frozen peas

Frozen seafood of your choice – shells and all!

Start by preheating the oven to 425° F. Then set yur frozen seafood (I use scallops, mussels and shrimp) in a bowl or colander to thaw. If you have a paella pan, heat olive oil over medium, adding onion and garlic. (If you want chorizo, now is the time to cook it with the onions and garlic. Then remove it from the pan while the rice cooks.) Sauté until the onions are see-through, and then cook the rice in this same pan, accordin’ to the package directions. If you don’t have a paella pan, first cook the rice in a sauce pan. About five minutes before it’s ready, sauté the onions and garlic in an oven-safe skillet, or any ole skillet for that matter. Then transfer the rice into the skillet when it’s done.

Don’t worry about gettin’ the rice perfectly dry; you actually need a little moisture in it so it doesn’t dry out in the bakin’. But you don’t want it to be soupy either! After rice is done and mixed in with onions and garlic, add a cup of roasted red peppers and frozen peas and gently stir into the rice. Then top with the cold seafood (and cooked chicken legs and thighs and/or chorizo) and fold in gently. Now put the full paella pan or oven-safe skillet into the oven, or transfer dish to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes until mussels have steamed open and you see a light brown crisp to the edges of the rice. The mark of a fine paella is a thin layer crusted rice at the bottom and edges of the pan. Let it cool a few minutes or even half an hour or more. Restaurants in Spain make a big paella and serve it all afternoon. The sittin’ improves the flavor.

¡Buen provecho!

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