I have fond memories of successfully making Spain’s national rice dish paella (pronounced pie-ay-yuh) for a large company dinner in the mid-1980s. I remember choosing to prepare paella, because not only was it unique but I thought it would taste delicious, be festive and be just that perfect entrée for feeding a large number of diners. In a word, it was a success that first time.
Yet, somehow for me, preparing paella has been put on my back burner since that inaugural time. I’m guessing that I’ve associated the meal with large gatherings and have just not prepared it again.
Just last weekend, we prepared shrimp paella for friends. We had one recipe from the book “The Rice Bible,” which we had checked out from the library. “The Rice Bible” is an encyclopedia of rice. Not only does it have lots of recipes from pilafs and risottos to rice desserts, but the book features more than 500 photos and illustrations. It’s an excellent resource for families who enjoy rice in its many permutations, and perfect for those families that prefer to eat less wheat. We also found a paella recipe on the Internet. I chose to make the Internet recipe.
Shrimp paella — Ingredients: 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 8 ounces 1/2-inch cubes smoked ham (about 1 3/4 cups), 2 cups chopped onions, 1/2 cup of chopped red bell pepper, 1/4 tablespoon of saffron threads crumbled, 1/4 tablespoon smoked paprika, 3 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth divided, 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice or medium-grain white rice, 1 pound of uncooked peeled deveined large shrimp, and 1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives halved.
Preparation: Heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add smoked ham, if desired, onions and bell pepper. Sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in saffron and paprika, then 3 cups of broth and rice. Bring to a boil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is almost tender, about 15 minutes. Nestle shrimp into rice, top with olives, if desired, and drizzle with 1/4 cup, or more, broth to moisten.
Cover and cook until shrimp are just opaque in center, about 6 minutes. A great test for knowing if the shrimp are done, is to slice one in half horizontally. If the shrimp is not opaque in the center, on low heat, cook a couple of minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
I realize that paella is delicious, but labor intensive. Save the paella recipe for your day off. Then you can relax and prepare it for friends or family without the stress of a workday. To help you make a saffron infused rice recipe, I’m also including a less labor intensive rice recipe that uses saffron and is easily cooked in 18 minutes. Perfect for a workday.
Classic saffron rice: Place 1 teaspoon of butter and 1 teaspoon finely minced onion in a heavy quart saucepan. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add 1 cup of long-grain white rice, 1 small pinch saffron crumbled and 2 cups of water or chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed — about 18 minutes.
Once you’ve cooked the saffron rice, you can give every entrée you prepare an elegant touch by replacing ordinary rice with saffron rice. Because I love the flavor and color of saffron rice so much, when I have left-over saffron rice, I’ve even used it to accompany stir-fry entrées. I know it’s not Asian, but saffron rice is definitely flavorful and it’s a great feeling to use up a leftover. Enjoy rice.