There we were, running like silly tourists, attempting to use our Barcelona tour map to cover our heads, as we searched for a hidden gem of a restaurant.
We ducked into a nearby alley, just as the unexpected rain shower passed by and the blazing sun returned. Steam rose slowly from the hot, rain slicked cobblestone street as we stepped under the nearest balcony and, by our good fortune, found a fantastic little café that served the most delicious paella!
Alright, here’s the real story. One of my wife’s co-workers gave her a few threads of saffron and when my wife presented them to me, my thoughts, not surprisingly, went straight to paella. I’ve eaten dishes that contain saffron before, like grilled lamb and couscous but I have yet to understand what makes the spice so special. A tiny amount of saffron can really brighten a dish and make it very colorful but the spice is so subtle, in flavor, that it goes virtually unnoticed by my palette. There’s a good chance that my palette lacks sophistication and there’s an even better chance that I am too heavy-handed with other spices that I don’t showcase saffron properly.
Saffron is ridiculously expensive, due to the amount of work and resources required to grow and harvest it, which means that you won’t see me at the bazaar, haggling over the price with a merchant.
For me, the real joy of paella comes from the harmony achieved by the combination of the various vegetables, meats and rice. And, it’s a one-pan wonder! If you don’t have saffron, you can substitute with other spices that add brilliant color. A tiny amount of turmeric, achiote, or a combination of both can be used to produce yellow, orange and red color just as easily, and they won’t break the bank!
1 onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
4 or 5 garlic cloves, smashed and rough chopped
4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
¼ cup olive oil
2 large bay leaves
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp saffron threads
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup white wine
1 lb chicken breast or chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups uncooked rice
5 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
½ cup frozen green peas
8 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled, with tails on
6 to 8 green mussels
2 fresh squid, cleaned and cut into rings
1 lime, sliced
Prepare the vegetables. Chop the onions, bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Set aside.
In a large stainless steel skillet, add oil and heat at medium/low heat.
Add all of the chopped vegetables, except the tomatoes.
Simmer and stir the vegetables for five minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, spices and bay leaves. Simmer for another five minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Add white wine.
Simmer and stir occasionally for ten minutes.
Add chicken and rice. Stir for one minute.
Slowly add the chicken stock (or broth). Shake the skillet to level the rice, but do not stir.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then set the heat to low.
Leave the pan uncovered and let the paella do its thing. Do not stir.
I get anxious, every time I add uncooked rice to a pan full of stuff that is already cooking but I have learned to walk away. I find something else to do for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, nestle the squid, shrimp into the rice.
Top with peas and mussels. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Serve the paella in pan. Garnish with slices of lime.