If you've been under the misconception that paella (pronounced pie-yay-yah) is a winter party dish suitable for serving from 6 to 8 people, then let me acquaint you with Spanish chef Juan Carlos Galbis.
As a result of a bet made after consuming too many bottles of wine, he is credited for breaking the paella-making record by cooking it for 2,500 people in an enormous pan measuring 13 feet in diameter. Obviously he did not bake this in an oven. He cooked it outside over, 1,100 pounds of firewood, and among other ingredients, he used 220 pounds of rice.
Exactly when or why Americans began cooking paella in the kitchen, rather than outside, as the originators did 200 years ago, has never been determined. Even today in Spain, a true paella party is grilled outdoors -- always by men -- and served right from the pan it is cooked in.
The name paella originates from the round, shallow pan in which the dish is cooked -- the Catalan word for skillet. It is usually made of iron so it can go directly on the fire, but if the main ingredients are cooked separately, or the dish is baked in the oven, a stone or pottery pan can be used.
Many cooks believe the secret to a successful paella is the rice, and for best results it should be the short-grained Italian arborio variety. If you are well-organized and serve the paella as soon as the rice is cooked al dente, then arborio is a fine choice. If, however, you desire more flexibility in serving, I recommend using regular, long-grain white rice, which doesn't get sticky on standing and can be held for about 30 minutes after cooking.
Originally, paella was made with the vegetables, eel, snails and codfish so prevalent in the Valencia area. An inventive farmer probably came up with the idea of adding a little meat from his barnyard, and through the years restaurants and home cooks have incorporated shellfish and lobster to make the dish more sophisticated and festive.
A good paella includes lots of ingredients -- after all, it's an entire meal in one dish -- so the recipe may appear lengthy, but it is not at all difficult to prepare. I cook each of the components separately -- the rice and fish in a paella pan or Dutch oven, the chicken and shrimp on the grill, the mussels and clams in a skillet -- and then attractively assemble them before serving.
It is helpful to make a time plan for the various stages of cooking. The marinade and stock base can be made up to a day ahead and the sausage sauteed in advance. About 45 minutes before you plan to serve, heat the coals and cook the rice. The mussels and clams can be steamed while the chicken and shrimp are grilling.
Since paella is the ultimate "let's have a party" food, you will want to create a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Invite your guests by sending a colorful note tied to castanets in a padded envelope. Greet them with pitchers of sangria and bowls of salsa and chips. Toss leafy greens with sliced Mediterranean olives, chickpeas and a light vinaigrette, and for a refreshing finale, top your favorite ice cream with fresh berries and colorful summer fruit. And if you wonder how many guests you can handle, Mr. Galbis reminds us that we are limited only by the size of our pan and our spirit of adventure. Ole!
Paella with grilled chicken and shrimp
3 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
6 skinned and boned chicken breast halves
16 colossal or jumbo size shrimp, peeled with tails left on
1 bottle (8 ounces) clam juice
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine or imported dry vermouth
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 to 1 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound chorizo or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cans (15 ounces each) whole tomatoes, drained and broken up
2 1/2 cups long grain white rice
4 tablespoons fresh herbs, oregano and thyme preferred
1 pound shark or swordfish, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
16 mussels, scrubbed
16 clams, scrubbed
2 red peppers, cut into 8 strips
2 yellow peppers, cut into 8 strips
8 large green onions with tops neatly trimmed
To make the marinade, mix all ingredients except chicken and shrimp in glass jar or bowl. Use immediately or refrigerate overnight. Place chicken and shrimp in separate glass dishes or plastic bags. About 2 hours before serving, pour 2/3 of the marinade over the chicken; cover and refrigerate, turning once. About 1 hour before serving, pour remaining marinade over the shrimp; cover and refrigerate.