Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Good Years & Paella

Today marks the three year anniversary of this blog.  When it started, I had no idea this little project would ever become what it is now.  It was honestly just an impulse that I went with one summer day when I was working as a intern.  I had a desk job with a lot of free time, and I had recently had a birthday lunch with my cousin at a restaurant in DC.  I started writing an email to my parents and my sister about the meal, and then, on a whim, I decided to make it into a blog post.  I didn't even have an introduction.
The first year honestly was a very slow one.  I didn't write much, and when I did, I don't think anyone was really reading.  Then I went to France for the summer and prolifically published about the places that I ate at while on vacation.  My parents showed the link to various friends and family and before I knew it, I had an audience.
I am still learning how to write and trying to figure out the rules of the blogging world, but it is incredibly rewarding whenever I check on my Stats page (that's right, non-bloggers; I get a report of how many people are reading, what links and google search bring them here, what posts are being read, what countries readers are from... it's amazing) and I see that someone has tweeted about a post I wrote or someone has pinned a picture that I took onto Pinterest.  It is also wonderful to have those around me support me in this.
One of the strongest supporters of my food blogging is my boyfriend.  He understands how important this is to me, even though it has nothing to do with my career path, and he stands by as I take 30 pictures of a plate of food before letting him eat it and he smiles at my note-taking when we go out to dinner (even when we're with his friends).  But best of all, because I've been too swamped with work to write or cook anything to mark this three year anniversary, B. sweetly stepped in and wrote a special guest post.


For this special occasion today, I wanted to share a family recipe we do for family reunions, Sunday lunch and big occasions: Paëlla.
Europe is an exciting mix of culture and history and as a French-Catalan-Algerian, this Paëlla is a great example of how to present a traditional dish with your own influences, inspiration and techniques.  Originally, it was a poor man’s dish made out of leftovers but after many generations, it became a tradition and an equivalent of a feast.

What you’ll need for 6-8 people:

- 500g medium-grain rice
- 2 onions
- 1L chicken / vegetable stock
- 2 bell peppers (preferably red & green)
- 2 tomatoes
- 250g of calamari
- 4 pieces of chicken (usually drumsticks)
- 4 rabbit hind legs (optional)
- 200g chorizo
- 12 Spanish mussels
- 1 cup of cooked regular mussels
- 6 langoustines (Scampi)
- 350g shrimp
- 1 cup of peas
- 1 cup of white wine
- Armagnac / Cognac
- 3-4 pinches of saffron
- olive oil
- salt and pepper

You will need a big pan. I used a traditional 15-inches paella pan, but any large pan is good. Everything will be cooked in the same pan one step at a time, no need to wash it in between steps. We want to keep all the flavors from each step.

1- Heat the stock in a separate pan, chop the onions, wash the Spanish mussels, and rinse the calamari rings. Slice the chorizo and remove the “skin." Peel, seed, and dice the tomatoes. Peel, seed, and slice the bell peppers. Peel the shrimp, remove the heads and tails (note: don’t do this with the langoustines!).  Once your stock is hot, set aside about ½ cup and add the the saffron to "marinate" this stock.

2- Add enough olive oil for 3-4 turns around the pan. Sautee one-third of the chopped onions in the pan (don’t use all of your onions; the rest will be used later) with the Spanish mussels on medium-high for about 5-7 minutes. Once the mussels are ready, remove them from the pan and set them aside on a plate. Make sure every mussel is open, otherwise let it cook a little bit longer.

 3- Caramelize the calamari in the pan. Add onion if needed. Don’t cook the calamari completely here because they will cook longer at the end.  Remove them when they have a nice golden color (about 5 minutes) and set them aside on another plate.

4- Add a bit more onion and olive oil and cook the langoustines for 5-7 minutes. Get the Armagnac (or Cognac) ready to flambé. When the langoustines are almost done, pour the Armagnac on them, and use a match to set it on fire (be careful not to burn down the kitchen...)

5- Add the rest of onions (should be roughly ⅓ of the original amount) with the chicken, rabbit and bell peppers. Sautee for about 5 minutes, stir and add the tomatoes. Simmer on medium and add the peas and chorizo. The chorizo and the tomatoes should release their juice; don’t remove it.  Remove the chorizo before it is cooked completely as it will be cooked again at the very end.

6- While the meat is cooking, prep the Spanish mussels on the half-shell. This is mainly for presentation.

7 - When the meat is ready, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate on top of the stock pot (which should be on medium-low heat) to keep it warm (pretty much like a water bath)

8- Add the shrimp to the pan and put back the calamari with the cooked mussels (not the Spanish mussels!). On medium heat, add your rice evenly in the pan. Stir gently, then spread the rice to cover as much surface as possible. If you “stack” the rice, it won’t be cooked properly. Pour in the stock with the saffron and some of the regular stock to cover everything. Let this simmer and little by little pour in more stock as it reduces. The rice takes 20-25 min to cook.
In Catalonia, people like their rice to crack a little bit under the teeth (think al dente but cook it to your personal preference). After 15 minutes, put the chorizo back in.

9- When the paella is ready, put the chicken, the rabbit, the scampi on top of the rice. Add the Spanish mussels around the edge of the pan. Put the pan in a preheated oven at a low temperature between 85°F-140°F until your guests arrive to make sure everything will be warm when served.

Optional: Arrange slices of lemon on top before serving. You can also top with sprigs of parsley.

We finished our meal with a crêpe with red fruits and homemade chantilly... but that is a different story, for another day.

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