Hellomy Foodie Friends!
This time of year brings many family reunions, friendship gatherings, and special events that include great food and fun times. The holiday season is celebrated in myriad ways around the world. Every family has their own traditions that are rooted in cultural customs that go back for many generations. However, there is one similarity with these traditions that spans across the globe – food. Different cultures celebrate their holidays in different ways, but cooking and enjoying special foods and drinks is a tradition that transcends throughout the world and all religions.
Paella is one of our family’s favorite dishes and is the iconic rice dish of Spain. Cooked with care, but not requiring the fussy attention of a risotto, it’s the perfect way to cap off a happy holiday celebration. The dish has the further advantage of customization and built-in appropriateness for a couple of different special diets -- it naturally has no gluten and no dairy. Vegetarians may forgo the typical use of Spanish sausage and chicken, using a vegetable stock to cook the rice. Those that love seafood can find plenty to love going all seafood with a seafood stock to complement the required rice, saffron, tomatoes and olive oil.
Paella is a perfect party dish because it’s a one-pot meal, and because it feeds any size group. Paella is a rice dish from Spain that has become very popular and is known around the world. It originated in the fields of a region called Valencia in eastern Spain. Paella is meant to show off the rice itself and to highlight a few special ingredients. These can be vegetables, fish, shellfish or meat including sausage in seafood paella and you may also find chicken in it. Do not forget the saffron -- it is the essential spice of the dish.
Whatever paella you make, it should use short- or medium-grain rice, which should be cooked uncovered in a flavorful stock. Spanish Bomba rice is the best to use. It’s fun to make paella over a grill or on the stove. However, it is important that you have the right pan for this dish; the Paella Pan! The Paella pan should be shallow and have sloping sides, which helps the rice cook evenly and develops more intense flavor. As the pans get larger, they grow in diameter rather than depth, which allows for more delicious socarrat. And like all authentic paella pans, they do not have matching lids (since paella is traditionally cooked in an open pan). We sell the traditional carbon steel pans. A good pan has dimples on the bottom to serve several functions. They trap small amounts of liquid and thus promote even cooking, they make the pan rigid, and they prevent warping.
Now what the heck is socarrat? When you make paella, socarrat is the caramelized bottom layer of rice that sometimes forms on the pan. Many people consider the socarrat the prized part of the paella. Also, there is speculation that socarrat has aphrodisiac powers, and that it is what fuels the passion of those renowned Spanish lovers. I myself am Irish, French and Italian so the passion is taken care of by the French and Italian parts. But I might like a little Antonio Banderas side of me to crop up from time to time! How about: tu es muy bonita Paula? If you are not sure what dish to serve for your holiday meal; consider Paella.
At Compliments to the Chef, your neighborhood Kitchen and Cutlery Store is located at 33 Railroad Place. We sell Paella pans and other cooking tools to help you with your holiday creations. Create your holiday traditions. It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas! Remember my Foodie Friends: “Life Happens in the Kitchen.”
John & Paula