Saturday, July 19, 2008

Paella A L'Americaine

Adapted from The French Chef by Julia Child

Serves 8

We were going out to dinner with Susan and Tony the other night. It took about a month's worth of planning and scheming and tossing around where to go. Finally, Susan said she had a GREAT place that they had been going to for years. It was fun and comfortable and had fabulous food, particularly garlic shrimp to die for. Sounded good to us, so Thursday night we met at El Charro Espanol, a Spanish restaurant that's been at 4 Charles Street for over 70 years.

Susan was right. The food was delicious - and not just because we drank a few pitchers of this-hits-the-spot sangria. The food was really, really good. Tapas were cold anchovies, sauteed chorizos, grilled octopus, and garlic shrimp. We split two entrees among the four of us - paella a la valenciana and mariscada (shellfish) in green sauce. We also had fried potatoes that were like slightly thick potato chips and were how-can-I-get-more-before-they're-all gone wonderful. All of this was followed by one little dessert that was closer to creme brulee than flan because there was burnt sugar on the top.

This got me to thinking about a dish I used to make for dinner parties a long time ago, Paella a L'Americaine, from, strangely enough, Julia Child's The French Chef, which was my first Julia book.

The recipe says that real Spanish rice works well in this dish and "short, fat imported Italian rice, which is sold in white cotton bags in many Italian neighborhoods, is equally good." In those days I had never looked for Spanish rice anywhere and had no idea what Arborio rice was, let alone Vialone Nano or Carnaroli. I used what Julia suggested as the best alternative, parboiled rice. In other words Uncle Ben's.

Paella can have anything in it as long as it has rice, saffron, garlic, and paprika. (Steph, remember pap-a-rika?) This one has pork, chicken, and shrimp with mussels and/or clams as optional ingredients.

Since I have been reminded of this dish, I'm going to make it again soon. In the meantime, if you try it, let me know what kind of rice you use and how it worked out.

This recipe calls for boiled shrimp, and I am wondering why the shrimp would be boiled instead of just cooked in the paella pan - especially since it marinates in lemon juice, which is going to "cook" it anyway. When I make this again, I am not going to cook the shrimp in advance, but I will shell it since, as I said, it marinates. By the way, I never devein my shrimp. Peggy, who is from Charleston, convinced me of this a long time ago, and I'm stickin' to it here. That way the shrimp stay nice and plump without a slit down the back. (if this sounds awful to you, you can actually take tweezers and pull the vein from the point where the head was severed from the body. What? You didn't know the heads have been severed? Sorry.)

Paella a L'Americaine

Step One - Chicken and Pork

1/2 pound pork butt (as I explained in my Pork Stock post, pork butt is pork shoulder butt, lean bacon, or lightly smoked ham
1 pound fresh chorizos or Italian pork sausages simmered 10 minutes in water and roughly diced (Julia says you can alternatively use cooked pork sausages, such as Polish sausage, so I don't see why dried chorizos wouldn't be good too.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced yellow onions
1 cup sliced green or red bell peppers or a combination of the two
8 chicken thighs or drumsticks, washed and thoroughly dried
1/2 cup dry white wine or French vermouth
4-1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon saffron flowers
1 teaspoon paprika (I would assume Spanish sweet paprika would be best, but I definitely didn't know about that when I was making this dish all the time, and I bet Julia wasn't thinking about that when she published this recipe in 1968.)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
(The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, but I don't like dried oregano so I leave it out.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

In a skillet, brown the diced pork, bacon, or ham and the sausages lightly in olive oil. If there's a lot of fat in the pan, remove all but two tablespoons and reserve the rest. Add the onions and peppers to the pan, and cook until the vegetables are tender - about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds to release the flavor, but do not brown. Turn the heat off.

You want to brown the chicken pieces all over in a paella pan or a large braiser using either the reserved pork fat from above or more olive oil. Remember, the fat has to be hot when you add the chicken to prevent it from sticking. When the chicken is brown, take it out of the pan, and put it on a platter. Remove any excess fat from the pan, which you may have from browning the chicken. Transfer the vegetables from the skillet to the paella pan, and add the wine and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, and add the saffron, coriander, bay leaf, and thyme. (Add 1/2 teaspoon of oregano here if you are using it.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, and nestle the chicken back in the pan. Cover the pan, and simmer slowly for 20 minutes. The chicken will be about three-quarters cooked at this point.

Step Two - Shrimp

1 pound shrimp, shelled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
(Again, the recipe calls for dried oregano - 1/4 teaspoon, which I don't use.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 medium tomatoes
1 to 2 cups shelled green peas and/or diced green beans
Salt and pepper

Optional - 24 mussels and/or clams (Make sure they are either tightly closed or if slightly open, close tightly when touched. Mussels and clams must be scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed with a stiff brush until no more dirt from the shells is released into a bowl of cold water. Clams are sandy and should be left to stand in a bowl of salted cold water [1/2 cup salt to a gallon of water] for about an hour in the refrigerator to release sand. Rinse again in a colander before proceeding with the recipe to get rid of any sand that was purged while they were standing. The "beards" on mussels can be clipped with scissors. Mussels should be refrigerated until ready to use.)

Toss the shrimp in a bowl with the lemon juice, (oregano if you are using it), oil, and seasonings, and refrigerate. Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the juice and seeds, and chop the tomatoes roughly. If you want to peel them, drop them into boiling water for 10 seconds before you halve them, and the skin will slip off easily. You can also peel them with a swivel peeler, which is what Marcella does. You have to use a sort-of zig-zag motion to do this, but it works. My favorite swivel peeler looks like a slingshot. )

Cook the peas and/or beans in boiling, salted water until barely done. (They will cook a little more later; but you don't want them underdone at the end.) This will only take a few minutes, but you have to taste them as you would spaghetti, to get them at the right point. Drain, stop them from cooking further by running cold water over them, and set aside.

Step Three - Final Cooking

2 cups rice - Spanish, Italian (Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli), or parboiled rice (Uncle Ben's or a Spanish brand, which can be found in the market for far less money)
2 lemons quartered, for garnish
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

On top of the stove bring the contents of the paella pan to a boil. Sprinkle in the rice, pushing it down into the liquid with a spoon. Boil for about 5 minutes. Do not cover the pan, and do not stir the rice. As the rice cooks, it will absorb liquid, swell, and rise to the surface of the pan. When it does, strew on the shrimp, peas and/or beans, and tomatoes. Do not stir at any time during the cooking or the rice will get gummy. Just push the ingredients into the rice with a spoon. If you are using the mussels and/or clams, insert them them shell side down into the rice now.

Reduce the heat. Simmer the paella for about 7 more minutes until the rice is al dente. The liquid should all be absorbed when it is done. You should not have to cover the pan, but if the rice isn't cooking properly, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of water or stock on the top, cover for a few minutes, then uncover to finish the cooking. You sort of have to figure this out the first time you make it. It will depend on variables, such as the pan you are using, the heat from your burner, etc.

When done, turn off the heat, garnish the paella with lemon quarters and chopped parsley, and serve immediately from the paella pan.

All you need is a tart green salad and whatever wine you feel like drinking with it. I would choose a minerally, crisp white. Dessert could be creme caramel or fruit. I am partial to a bowl of cold cherries these days.

Print recipe.

1 comment:

  1. OMG!! El Charro Espanol?! I lived around the corner! It was one of the very first places I ate when I moved to New York. Oh man... memories.


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