An Improvised Paella with Sausage and Shrimp
It must be all the talk of Spain that’s been circulating around our house lately, what with the wifey expatriating herself to the land of pork, but I was struck last week with a very strong desire to make paella. I’d never even tasted paella, much less made it before last night, but according to those who’ve actually travelled out of the country (i.e. people who are not me) this is a very excellent version and I managed to do justice to the classic Valencian dish. We even made it on Sunday, the day on which paella is traditionally eaten Spain, so I feel assured that I am properly preparing Crystal for her Spanish sojourn.
The key component to paella making is the pan. Paella must be cooked in a wide, shallow, flat-bottomed pan, and it just so happens that the enormous skillet I hardly ever use, due to its too-thin bottom, is perfect for paella. Paella pans are usually set over a wood fire, but sadly, I don’t think my landlord would have been very happy with a wood fire in the kitchen, so I had to make due with the stove.
Paella pans are essential because one of the best parts of paella is the burned, crusty rice bits at the bottom of the pan, called the socarrat. In order to get that crust to form you have to do something that always proves difficult to me when I’m cooking: You have to leave it alone. No stirring. No gentle nudging of tasty rice bits with your spoon. No shaking the pan around over the heat to mix it all up. Sigh. I’m not sure that the socarrat in my paella was exactly what it’s meant to be because, damn it, I just couldn’t help myself from stirring it once or twice.
As is my wont, I spent a good deal of time researching paella before I stepped into the kitchen, and this version is kind of cobbled together from about four or five different recipes I found. The basis for my method was found at mediterrasian.com, where you can find a very helpful step-by-step rundown of paella making.
Sausage and Shrimp Paella with Peppers
Paella making is a multiple step project, and the first part of this is making a sofrito. In Spanish cooking, a sofrito is kind of like a mire poix: the flavor base for many different dishes. It consists of onion, tomatoes, and garlic cooked down to a thickened near-paste consistency. I believe you can buy pre-made sofrito in jars at the market, but it wasn’t particularly difficult, either, so you might as well make it yourself.
- 4 tomatoes
- 1/2 an onion (I used yellow, but red onions are seemingly the more popular choice)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1-2 T. olive oil
- a handful of parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. paprika (Spanish smoked paprika would be best)
The first thing you do is make a tomato puree. I probably could have used my food mill, but when I saw this technique I wanted to try it out: Grate the raw tomatoes on a cheese grater. Preferably one with a dish under it to collect the tomato puree. The skins will stay intact, allowing you to collect only the juicy insides. You can throw the skins away (or save them for stock, like I should have if I was thinking.)
Heat the olive oil in the paella pan. Add the onions and garlic and saute them for about five minutes, or until they are soft and not quite brown. Then add the tomatoes, parsley, and paprika, and a bit of salt and pepper. Stir this all together, and then let it cook down over medium-high heat until it is thick and jam-like. Then remove the pan from the heat and put the sofrito aside in a separate dish.
- 4 or 5 links of hot Italian sausage
- about 12 – 15 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
- a bit more olive oil
- 2 bell peppers, chopped (I used one yellow and one green)
- 1 1/2 c. arborio or another medium-grain rice (don’t use long-grain rice, as it just won’t turn out right)
- 1 1/2 c. sofrito
- 3 c. chicken stock
- a pinch of saffron
- salt and pepper
Peel the casings off the sausages and add them into the paella pan, over medium-high heat, breaking them up with a spoon. When they’re almost entirely cooked through, add the shrimp to the pan and cook the sausage and shrimp together until the shrimp is pink and the sausage is cooked through. Remove it all from the pan and set it aside in a separate bowl.
Add a bit more oil to the pan, and cook the peppers until they’re soft and starting to brown at the edges. Meanwhile, heat the stock and the saffron together in a small saucepan. When the peppers are ready, add the sofrito back to the pan, along with the rice. Stir it all together and cook for about a minute, until the rice starts to turn slightly transclucent. Then stir in the saffroned stock and let it cook, uncovered and unstirred, for about 10 minutes. Check on it to see if you need to add any more stock (maybe another 1/3 of a cup), and continue to let it cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, not stirring, over medium-low heat. When the rice is just about done, turn the heat up to high so the bottom can form that nice rice crust–you should hear the rice toasting a bit, and smell it. After about four or five minutes, take the pan off the heat. Add the sausage and shrimp back in, tucking the shrimp into the rice as well as you can. Cover the whole pan with foil or a lid, and let it sit, off the heat, for about five minutes.
I’m sure that someone will read this and have something to say about how inauthentic it is. I know it has no mussels in it. I don’t like mussels. Most paella has more than one kind of seafood, but there wasn’t a ton available at the hippy market, and I needed to use up the leftover sausage, anyway. Perhaps there are other key ingredients that I missed–it’s always a bit fraught to try to cook some kind of traditional regional cuisine, because people tend to feel so very, very strongly about it. But I was happy about it, and Crystal said it was exactly the way she remembers paella from being in Spain, so I think I did alright.
We also had some excellent cheese: a very creamy mahon, and something else I’m kicking myself for not remembering. It was a sheep’s milk cheese made up of two layers, the morning milk and the evening milk, separated by a thin layer of ash. And it was mild and soft and absolutely delicious. A few bottles of wine, some good conversation, and I can almost imagine what it might be like to be in Spain, myself.