Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Paella Mexicana

While I'm working here at GreenWood I usually have the Food Network droning in the background, and I have my favorite TV chefs but as usual I have a few improvements to add to their recipes for maximum impact. Michael Chiarello of Napa Valley's Bottega has a great way with making meals that are consistently a cut above most "quick fix" menus. Of course, it helps to be a certified master chef living in Napa Valley with a winery and general rich-California-guy estate from which to glean your morsels; here in the not-so-tony North Georgia Mountains I make do with trips to Kroger and Wally World. (I used to patronize the produce stand on the corner but a couple of years ago I bumped into the owner at the local Wally World hauling three carts full of produce, and later that day I rooted through the tomato baskets and found several with the inventory sticker still attached. Hmph, harrumph I say.) With a family of four I make judicious use of the manager's specials at Kroger and Publix for all the meats, and with some forethought we can enjoy decent seafood fairly frequently.

Many years ago I was introduced to paella by a girlfriend from Puerto Rico, and with its combination of saffron and seafood I thought it was sent from heaven above but it  always seemed to be in need of a balancing kick of some kind. A couple of weeks ago I came across Chef Chiarello's recipe for an Italian paella, which substituted a few traditional Italian ingredients in place of the Spanish. Well, I'd been hankering for a different sort of seafood dish and hadn't had a paella in a few years so I decided to take part of Chiarello's recipe and modify it in a more Mexican direction. It turned out great, my kids (who have never had paella before) loved its color and variety of offerings in one dish.

Be warned, this recipe makes a huge amount of paella, so either plan a dinner party or have a way to share. A nice fruity Sangria would be a perfect compliment, as would a crisp ale or iced tea with mint.

Mister C's Mexican Paella  Serves 8-10
You'll need a large skillet or heavy saucepan with a lid and a paella pan or a similar large oven-safe pot, and better go ahead and have a libation on hand because this is one meal that takes a while to prepare. Preheat the oven to 350F.

1 lb Freshwater Mussels or Small Clams
2 Boneless Chicken Breasts, chunked and browned
2-3 Links Chorizo Sausage, cooked and sliced
1 lb Jumbo or Colossal Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb Loligo Squid, tentacles and tubes cut into pieces
2 Sweet Bell Peppers, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Large Onion, chopped
1 Large Tomatillo, chopped
3 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 Poblano Pepper, sliced into rings
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tsp Chili Powder
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tbsp Chicken Broth
8 Cups Saffron Rice
Salt and Pepper for the broth (to taste)

In a large skillet, I cook the chorizo first so all the good spice and fat will accumulate from the very beginning and serve as a base to which the rest of the meat flavorings will add their own essence. Then I remove the sausage, brown the chicken in the sausage drippings and remove. I then add the olive oil and reduce the heat medium and saute the onion, garlic and green pepper until just soft. Add the chicken broth, add salt and pepper then increase the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp and squid. Cook for 3 minutes and remove from the pan, keeping the liquid and set aside with the sausage and chicken. Add the clams or mussels to the pan, cover and steam in the mixture for 5 minutes. While you're waiting for the clams or mussels to do their thing add the rice and everything else except the poblano to the paella pan and give it a light mix. After about five minutes the shells should be just beginning to open, and there should be a good deal of very savoury liquid in the skillet. Pour the entire contents of the skillet (including the liquid) over the rice mix, lay the poblano rings over the top and put the pot in the oven for 20 minutes or so to finish cooking and allow the ingredients to mingle. Remove the unopened shells from the mix with tongs, give it a good stir to mix everything a final time and serve hot in big bowls or deep plates.

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