Tuesday, 22 May 2007


Back when I lived up in Glasgow and Anna was down here in Oxford, Anna came up with the idea of "food challenges", basically making food that we didn't previously know how to make that seemed a little bit out of our cooking comfort zone. Anna's first challenge for me was paella. I'd eaten paella before but hadn't really thought of making it because it seemed really difficult. I found a reasonable looking recipe somewhere on the internet, followed it, and the results were pretty good. I've played around with the recipe since, and often made the rice on its own, as it's a fantastic fragrant and spicy accompaniment to a lot of meals.

Anyway, I was going through my cupboards today and found some saffron that I'd bought to use in a shakshuka and had since forgotten about. My repertoire of recipes involving saffron includes only two recipes, so I decided to make some paella.

Since saffron is really expensive, it's tempting to use a substitute such as turmeric to give the paella rice that rich yellow colour (Anna tested such a recipe for the BBC's Good Food magazine) but while the results are decent, it isn't a match for saffron. It's worth keeping in mind that despite the cost, saffron is used rather sparingly in most dishes and so a little bit goes a long way.

Paella is a reasonably quick recipe, and it didn't take much longer than half an hour to make tonight. That includes allowing the rice to cook, so it's not all labouring over a hot stove either.

We had the paella with a 2005 Ribera Del Duero by Altos de Tamaron. I don't know much about wines but it seemed fitting to eat this with a Spanish wine and this one won a silver award from Decanter magazine and was reasonably priced.

Two large paellas I made for the family on Christmas Eve 2005.

The Recipe:

Short grain rice
Enough chicken or vegetable stock for the amount of rice you're using
Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
A pinch of saffron
Crushed chili flakes (I suppose fresh chilis would also work)
The zest of one lemon
Chopped parsley
A bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Skinless and boneless chicken breasts
Whatever seafood you can get your hands on

An authentically Spanish paella recipe will call for a paella pan--basically a large and somewhat shallow pan, but I've found that a large saucepan or even a wok works well.

Brown the onions and garlic and add the rice. Fry the rice until it's a little bit translucent and then add in the stock. Add a bay leaf, the crushed chilis, the lemon zest, and the saffron, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is almost gone, stir in the chopped parsley and season to taste. I added some chopped tomatoes and some green peppers into the rice tonight, but those aren't necessary.

While the rice is cooking, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and coat these with paprika. Fry up the chicken and chorizo. How you do the seafood is up to you. Tonight I used one of those precooked seafood mixes from Tesco and threw it in the pan when the meat was done just to warm it up. I used really good seafood in those two large paellas and I steamed it with white wine. In any case, when both the rice and the meat and seafood are finished, arrange the meat and seafood on top of the rice and serve.

What is healthy about this recipe: The glass of red wine accompanying it.

What is seasonal about this recipe: It's mostly rice so this doesn't really apply.

What I learned from this recipe: Saffron is great and I should learn more than two recipes that involve it.

What I will change next time: I'll check my cupboards and plan things better next time. For example, I thought that I had much more short grain rice than I actually had and so the paella was a mixture of short and long grain rices. I likewise didn't have a lemon on hand for the zest until Anna got back from work with one and so I added the zest right at the end. Planning things really isn't my strong suit.