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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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Tonight I am cooking one of my favourite staple dishes. Great for family or informal dinners with friends. Freezes beautifully into portions. And actually good enough to serve at a grown-up dinner party too.

The recipe is from Stephanie Alexander‘s mammoth tome The Cooks Companion. This is the kind of recipe book that totally daunts people who consider themselves non-cooks thanks to its sheer size. It shouldn’t. This is the recipe book everyone should have in their kitchen. I gave The CC to friends Tash and Ian for their wedding on the basis that they could spend the next 50 years cooking their way through it. Tash thanked me through faintly gritted teeth but I feel quietly confident that now they have two mini-Tash’s this is a very useful book to have.

The Cooks Companion

Kilos of book: The Cooks Companion

It is the cookbook that does the following:

  • is structured alphabetically by standard ingredients e.g. for rhubarb focussed recipes visit R for Rhubarb. This is a lot handier than it sounds. Think about the moment when you have a load of rhubarb that you are looking at blankly with a feeling that you should do something about it. The CC gives you an overview of the basics of rhubarb (poaching etc); load of rhubarby recipes; and a  bunch of other ideas including cross references to other recipes in the book that include rhubarb.
  • is beautifully indexed and cross referenced. So if you are cooking chicken with chickpeas you can find it under C for Chicken or C for Chickpeas/
  • has all the basic recipes up front such as: pastries (short / sweet / flaky /puff / choux); scones; stock; batters etc
  • is great for the moments when you buy a walloping lamb leg to feed 1o. And then have no idea how long to roast it for to attain pink deliciousness. Just go to Lamb and at the beginning it has Roasts and Legs (boned or unboned).  Even the most competent cooks have baffled moments contemplating large pieces of meat. As a competent cook I probably angst more about getting it right as there is  no excuse for a beautiful cut of organic meat to be ruined.

Anyway, back to the recipe for tonight. Moroccan inspired chicken on page 295.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs
salt & freshly ground pepper
2T olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 X 2cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
pinch of saffron threads [don’t scimp on the saffron – ever]
1/2 t of chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 T cumin seeds
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice [I use whole baby carrots]
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm dice [I use whole or half teeny baby turnips – they are surprisingly good in this and soak up the flavour]
1 litre chicken stock [anyone who uses cubes will be blocked from this site][
500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 cups cooked chickpeas [I chuck in 2 400g cans usually]
rind of 1/4 preserved lemon [substitute with zest of a whole lemon]
stalks and leaves from a 1/2 bunch of coriander, chopped [I ADORE coriander so tend to chuck in a whole bunch]
Cous cous to serve [I am not telling you how to cook cous cous, read the packet]

Heat oil in large heavy based stock pot or saucepan. [If you have a big Le Creuset casserole dish use this.] Saute onion, garlic, ginger, saffron, chilli flakes, cinammon stick and cumin seeds until onion has softened. Add chicken which has been lightly salt and peppered and brown on all sides. Add carrot, turnip and stock, bring to a simmer and cook on low for 30 minutes. [I use a simmer pad on my gas stove]. Add pumpkin, chickpeas and lemon and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until pumpkin is tender. Stir in coriander and taste for seasoning. [i.e. add more salt now if you want to]. Serve with cous cous.

If you cannot get pumpkin or other base vegetable ingredients (e.g. had a big struggle finding pumpkin in the UK) substitute with other root vegetables e.g. parsnip, sweet potato etc.

Love this dish. Et voila (below).

Stephanie Alexander Moroccan Inspired Chicken

Moroccan inspired chicken in Le Creuset pan!

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You can tell this is one of my favourites by the appalling state of the book. It looks well used. Really delicious Spanish food with a Moroccan flair. Or the other way around. Try the baba ganoush recipe which is just superb. You want to seriously char your eggplant on the barbeque. The more burnt it is the more delicious and smoky the baba ganoush. Also some great lamb recipes with several very good marinades. Try the one with yoghurt and saffron. Just fab with the saffron rice.

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