Monday, June 20, 2011

Long Weekend Warrior

I don't know what it is about Memorial Day that makes most people eager to hop in their cars, board trains, cram on to buses and begin the summer tradition of weekend mass exodus, but for me it signals the beginning of something different. Sure, that first long weekend means that barbecue season has officially begun, but more importantly, it means that the city will be a virtual ghost town (hey, in a city of 8 million, we'll take all the defectors we can get). Lines at the supermarket are shorter, Saturday morning at the farmers market is (slightly) less crowded, the subway is almost comfortable, and an 8 o'clock reservation is suddenly easier to procure. And best of all, the loud children upstairs are not heard from for days (a blissful event that any apartment dweller can relate to).

And the truth is that you don't have to go away to relax in New York City, especially if you like spending any time in the kitchen. Although I grew up in the suburban US with good old fashioned barbecues, I also spent summers in Spain where you haven't seen what smoke and fire can do until you make paella. Lacking an appropriate and legal place to create a massive wood-burning fire within the confines of my apartment, I took my plans for paella to my stove. And with much of the Upper East Side left empty, I took advantage of the short lines at my normally crowded and picked over fishmonger to settle on the ingredients for a seafood paella. Why bother with the weekend beach traffic when I can get Long Island's best seafood right in my backyard?

The best thing about making paella is that it looks super impressive, serves a ton of people, but actually takes very little effort and only 25-30 minutes to make. I adapted my recipe for two since it was the only thing we planned on eating for dinner, but even my small paella pan when full serves up to six people. The key to making a great paella is using short grain rice (calasparra or bomba are best but even arborio will do in a pinch), using real saffron, and decent stock. The proteins are relatively interchangeable, and although seafood paella is the most popular in the US, non-seafood paella is the most classically Spanish (chicken, duck, rabbit, and short ribs are all great choices), and vegetable paellas are to die for (fresh spring peas, fava beans and mushrooms are a classic combo). You don't even need a paella pan. A low-sided, wide pan or skillet will do, as would a large cast iron skillet. So the next time you're at home but feel like taking a vacation, try making a paella. Make it on your grill or on your stove and I promise you'll be transported somewhere—without the nuisance of summer traffic.

Seafood Paella

1 1/2 cups short grain rice like bomba, calasparra or arborio
4 cups seafood stock (I used shrimp, but whatever you have on hand is fine)
1 pinch saffron threads or 1/8 tsp ground saffron
1 small onion, finely minced or grated
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup pureed tomatoes (fresh is best, but good quality canned or jarred will work)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
1 lb medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb little neck clams or cockles, scrubbed
1 lb squid, cleaned, bodies sliced into 1/2 inch thick rings
1 cup cornmeal
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges (for garnish)

1. Place clams (or cockles) and cornmeal in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside while you continue cooking (this helps the clams expel any sand or grit so it does not end up in your paella). In a small bowl or glass, combine the saffron with 1/4 cup warm water and set aside (this is called blooming; it allows the saffron to dissolve evenly when you add it to what you're cooking).

2. Heat olive oil on medium-low in a paella pan or very wide, shallow pan (do not use a non-stick pan for this). Add onions and peppers and cook until softened. Add paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 seconds. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute before adding the rice to pan. Cook the mixture for 2 minutes until the rice starts to turn slightly opaque.

3. Add 3 cups of the stock and the bloomed saffron (liquid and all) to the pan and give everything a stir so it's evenly distributed; taste for seasoning (you do not want to stir the paella any further). Cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until 1/3 of the liquid has been absorbed. Add clams to the paella, tucking them carefully into the rice. If your shrimp are large, add them to the top of the paella, nestling them in. If they are medium to small, add them in another 5 minutes so they don't overcook.

4. When only 1/4 of the liquid remains, add the squid and taste the rice. If it is almost al dente, continue cooking until all of the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked through. If it is still very undercooked, add the remaining cup of stock and cook until it is all absorbed and the rice is cooked through. If it is still not cooked when the last of the stock is absorbed, add water 1/4 cup at a time until done. 

5. When the rice and shrimp are cooked and the clams have opened, remove the paella from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened. Serve topped with fresh parsley and a lemon wedge. Enjoy!



Alice, Boudica, Lakshmibai, Joan . . . said...

I still remember eating your mother's seafood paella at your house in SS. I have dreams about that paella.

Ingrid Nuss Pyne said...

I still remember eating your mother's Seafood Paella at your house in SS. I have dreams about it, so good.