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The other night I made paella for Edward and Sarah after being inspired in Spain. Having said that I pretty much did what I always do but with more confidence after being inspired in Spain.

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

I shopped in Borough Market for the ingredients and managed to get:

Calasparra rice

Calasparra rice

  • calasparra rice (use this or bomba rice for paella as the first choice if you can find it. If you cannot find a paella rice use a risotto one. Note that paella rice will absorb about 4 times its own weight in liquid.)
  • a small free-range pork fillet
  • large prawns
  • a swordfish steak
  • fresh chorizo
  • some veges including peppers, red onions and flat leaf parsley.

Sarah is pregnant so I stayed away from shellfish. The great thing about paella is that you don’t need to be too precious about the star ingredients. Whatever is around and looks fresh and good. And feel safe mixing meat and seafood (also known as a mixed paella). The trick is to get the base right.

Caroline’s paella

Ingredients
200-300g firm fleshed fish such as monkfish or swordfish [less if you are adding some pork or other meat]
200-300g pork fillet [optional: if you don’t want fish get a couple of fillets of pork
2 T olive oil
3-4 T olive oil
2 red onions, very very finely chopped
2 green pepperrs (capsicum), seeded and very, very finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
100-150g fresh chorizo (a couple of sausages)
250g calasparra rice
3T oloroso sherry (or other dry sherry. Or dry white wine if you are stuck)
900ml fish stock (or chicken stock if you are doing a meat based paella)
a very good pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
sea salt and cracked pepper
bunch of Italian flat leafed parsley
some other seafood, for example 6-9 large prawns (depends on size); and/or shellfish in the shell such as 6-12 mussells, a dozen cockles etc. [optional, depends on how much meat/seafood is in there already]

In your paella pan (or the widest frying pan you have if stuck), heat 2T of olive oil. Cut the fish into large chunks and lightly fry on all sides. Do not cook through. Tip fish and juices into separate container and set aside. If you are also cooking some meat (e.g. pork), reserve some of the oil and juices and then lightly sautee the meat. Do not cook through. Tip into bowl and set aside.

If you have prawns, either shell them, or de-head them now. It depends on your preference. Add them to the stock (fish or chicken) and bring to the boil and simmer for 5  minutes or so. Remove from heat. Strain and discard prawn shells and debris and return the stock to the pot. Add the saffron to the hot stock and leave to steep.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and heat. Add the onion and peppers and sautee gently on a medium to low heat for around 20 minutes until softened and partially caramelised. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chorizo (if you are using it). Cook on low for another 10 minutes or so, stirring every now and then until the garlic is well softened.

If you aren’t adding prawns, bring the stock up to boil now then add the saffron and remove from the heat.

Turn up the heat under the paella pan to medium high and add the rice. Stir briefly to coat with the oniony mixture and cook for a minute or so. Add the sherry or wine and stir through. Cook for another minute. At this stage you can pause the process and restart around 20 minutes before you want to eat. Or keep going.

Add the stock and stir through the chopped parsley and the smoked paprika. In theory you can season at this stage but it is a very flavoursome dish so if in doubt leave the seasoning and offer people salt and pepper at the end. Add the fish and/or pork at this stage evenly around the paella, press under the rice. At this stage stop stirring! A paella is not like a risotto and does not require stirring to reach perfection. Ideally the stock creates steam channels through the rice and bubbles up to cook to perfection. This gets us to the challenging part of cooking a paella on a home stove. Ideally the entire paella pan is heated evenly (from edge to edge) underneath by hot coals, or another even heat source. In practice you end up straddling your 30cm paella pan over two elements and rotating it around to try and enable all bits of it to cook. Without stirring. So what I usually end up having to do is to rotate it periodically for about 15 minutes. And then finish it in the oven which should be preset to around 160C.

If you have prawns and/or shellfish – add these about 5 minutes before you deem the rice to be cooked i.e. at the point you are likely to stick it in the oven. Having had paella in Spain it should not be served uber soft. I would say that perfectly cooked is just a fraction more al dente than a risotto.So the point to add the additional seafood is where it still has a bit of bite to it and feels undercooked but kind of getting there (if that makes sense).The shellfish are cooked when they open up.

Remove from the oven or the stove top and serve direct from the pan. Offer people seasoning at this stage.

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