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I've been wanting to document one of my husband's paellas, but whenever he does one at home, I'm too busy doing the other bits of entertaining to be standing by taking pictures. Last week, there was a big family gathering at his sister's house and – paella being a family tradition – he cooked one there, and I was free to assist and play documentarian. Toward the end, I got distracted overseeing ice-cream production by a group of children, so the step-by-step is a bit less detailed.

 

This was a paella for 20, cooked in a 24" pan.

 

The raw materials:

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L to R, approximately: chicken thighs, boned, skinned, and cut into large chunks; chicken broth; the vegetables – pattypan squash from my garden (an improvisation that proved a happy one) and, on plates stacked underneath, green beans and strips of red bell pepper; chick peas; unpeeled cloves of garlic from 2 heads (in plastic cup); meatballs; a small green produce box half-full of sweet plums that somehow found its way into the picture; fresh chorizo squeezed out of its casing (we usually use dried hot Spanish chorizo); mussels; unpeeled shrimp; in back – loaves of french bread for smearing the cooked garlic on.

 

The setup:

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At home, TJ (Mr. Mora) prefers to cook the paella over a stick fire, but the setup is hardly portable, nor is it particularly welcome in the suburbs. So we have this portable gas cooker arrangement – two rings of pierced enameled steel fed from a propane tank, with a regulator for each ring; a stand with leveling feet. You can sort of see the pool of water carefully centered in the pan – it's important that the pan is level when you get it all filled up with ingredients and liquid.

 

This particular pan was TJ's grandfather's; it was passed down to him this spring when his father died (in a poignant deathbed rite of closure). In the community of Spanish émigrés where TJ's dad grew up, there were regular paella cook-offs where all the men would bring their pans down to the central square on a Sunday. Each had decorated a handle of their pan with a unique identifier; the photo on the right shows the simple wire twist on one handle with which TJ's grandfather marked his pan.

 

continued next post...

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Wow GG where's the woman's finger that's holding everything up in the first photo? Are you taking how to defy gravity lessons from Mongo?

 

That's a really cool pan. Do you know where I can buy one?

 

I've never been to Spain but paella is made in Oran, Algeria where I lived for a while and the dish always brings back nice memories.

 

Mr Mora's preparation looks wonderful. I'm glad your posting this.

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TJ's dad would start his paella with a bit of soffrito (ground tomato and onion and garlic); sometimes TJ starts with chopped onion and garlic, but he recently discovered that a heaping glob of ajvar – the eastern european condiment of roasted eggplant, garlic and red pepper – is a quick alternative and adds nice flavor and a bit of rich color to the dish.

 

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L to R (the pan is over fairly high heat at this point):

– sautéeing the ajvar in a little olive oil

– the crumbled sausage is added

– the meatballs are added

 

In between additions, the contents are stirred and the meats are beginning to brown.

 

 

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L to R:

– the chicken is added

– a few teaspoons of saffron threads are crumbled into about 2 cups of water to infuse

– once the meats are nicely browned (but not cooked through) the garlic is added and stirred around to brown a bit

 

TJ used to add peeled garlic, but after 4 heads' worth disintegrated over the course of cooking a giant paella for a party, he discovered that adding it unpeeled was the thing to do. While you eat your paella, you fish the whole cloves out and squeeze the soft garlic out of the peel onto slices of crusty bread.

 

 

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L to R – carefully distributing the squash, beans and peppers.

 

Gratuitous tit shot:

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Continued next post...

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The paella should be seasoned well with salt and ground pepper at this point.

 

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L to R: adding the chick peas, the chicken broth, and the saffronified water

 

Next up, the rice is added. We couldn't find callasparra rice, so used arborio, which is a reasonable substitute. General rule of thumb is 1 cup of rice for every 4 people. Since 11 of the 20 diners would be children, some of them quite small, TJ went light on the rice and used 3 cups. Initial rice : liquid ratio should be about 1 : 3 (more water can be added as the rice cooks).

 

The rice is sprinkled around the pan, then pushed down into the liquid with the cooking utensil:

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Note that once the meats are browned, the paella is never stirred. The contents of the pan can be pushed down into the liquid, nudged a little, but never stirred.

 

With all the rice added and sunk into the liquid, and with the liqud level topped up and the whole pan simmering, it looks like this:

18waterlevel1au.jpg

 

(This is where I got distracted with ice-cream making, so we jump ahead a little)

 

As the rice cooks, it gives off starch and starts to make the liquid kind of saucy. When the rice is almost done (as determined by frequent tasting, of course), the seafood can be arranged around the pan and gently tucked in.

 

Seafood tucked into saucy rice:

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Tit shot #2:

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As the “sauce” is absorbed into the rice and the seafood approaches doneness and the pan starts to dry out, you can raise the heat a little to brown the rice on the bottom and form the crusty soccarat which is the hallmark of a “correct” paella.

 

In the Mora family, anyway, the paella is served witih wedges of lemon, which is squeezed over each serving as a sort of condiment. TJ recently learned that his Uncle Henry arranges the lemon wedges in the pan for garnish, and so he has begun to do the same.

 

From start to finish, this dish took just over an hour (not including prep, of course).

 

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That's a really cool pan. Do you know where I can buy one?

The pan is at least 50 years old, and probably came from a small manufacturer in Spain. La Tienda (tienda.com) has some nice pans, both stainless and carbon steel. The Mora pans are all carbon steel. This particular pan is a little deeper than those commonly available now.

 

(No doubt the paella purists are screaming bloody murder, but so what? That looks soooooooooo good.)

 

Is it really so “unpure”? Perhaps Americanized a bit, but evolved from Valencian tradition (my father-in-law's family came here from outside Valencia back in the 40s). It's one of those things that quickly becomes highly individual – my father-in-law's very different from his father's and his brother's, my husband's very different from his father's and his brother's, the cousins' each distinct. But screaming bloody murder? More like howling in derision.

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Guest Suzanne F
(No doubt the paella purists are screaming bloody murder, but so what? That looks soooooooooo good.)

 

Is it really so “unpure”? Perhaps Americanized a bit, but evolved from Valencian tradition (my father-in-law's family came here from outside Valencia back in the 40s). It's one of those things that quickly becomes highly individual – my father-in-law's very different from his father's and his brother's, my husband's very different from his father's and his brother's, the cousins' each distinct. But screaming bloody murder? More like howling in derision.

Doesn't paella arouse similar strong feelings--as does cassoulet--among those (whether Spanish or not) who demand "authenticity"? Since Mr. Mora's family is Spanish, I just assumed someone would get on him for being inauthentic because that's not the way THEY think it should be done. If that's not the case, then hooray! :blink:

 

What was in the meatballs?

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