The hand-me-down pots from your mother are more than just kitchen utensils!
My kitchen is lusciously littered with items from the women in my life. My grandmother’s cast-iron frying pan, my mother’s bread bowl, my sister’s coffee press. Various pastry making items from aunts. A special wooden spoon from a reporter from a rival newspaper. My friend Linda’s wooden salad bowl she left at my house. Antonia’s cordial bottle. Carolyn’s very old cookie sheet with the bent-up handles. The amber bowl my brother gave me. I know, he wasn’t a woman, but he always bragged about his well-developed feminine side, and having raised three daughters as a single father, he qualifies in my book. These things are precious to me, and make me happy when I use them.
A favorite pan
One of my favorite things is an enormous paella pan I inherited from my step mother-in-law Pat Read, a professional chef (I think she used it in one of her restaurants), and she is the person who cooked this for me the first time ever. It was one of the most impressive dishes I’d ever seen, the top so beautifully arranged with peppers and other vegetables! It’s a lovely copper pan, and when I use it, I have to increase the recipe below, and it takes longer to cook! She said you can use anything you want in this dish as long as you use the correct short-grained rice, saffron, and tomatoes. The first time she made it for us she used duck and shrimp, clams and mussels. It was divine. I’ve made this dish a lot, and I doubt I have ever made it the same twice. This is just one of the many possibilities.
Paella is a popular Spanish dish cooked in that wide, shallow pan, but you can use a shallow skillet just fine.
Adjust the recipe according to the size pan and gathering you have. Use any protein you like –– just seafood, or a mix of fish, shellfish, chicken, duck ––You can also make this vegetarian, adding just artichokes or other favorite veggies. It usually has Spanish chorizo, and always has saffron. It’s all about the technique and the fun. Traditionally, paella is a communal dish prepared over an open fire for a large gathering, with a little extra work put into the stunning presentation. But you can make it at home on your kitchen stove, or if the spirit moves you, your charcoal grill (even better). The coveted caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan, called socarrat, is the crown jewel of the dish.
There’s always another option
If you can’t find Valencia or Bomba rice, use Calasparra, or any starchy short-grained white rice. Use a paprika you like, sweet or hot, depending on your gathering, but look for a good quality. This adds flavor as well as color, so you definitely want something that hasn’t been on the shelf for a year. I use a local chicken chorizo that is filled with lovely paprika as well, but you may substitute any favorite sausage, sweet or hot, or vegetarian.
Even without the shellfish, it’s delightful
This one is more simple than other paellas I’ve made. Usually, I add lots of shellfish tossed on at the end, clams, mussels, oysters! Make this any way you like, no seafood at all if that is your preference, and you and your guests will be happy. If you have a pot from your grandmother, all the better! Of course, if artichokes or peas are in season, use the fresh, but both have such a short harvest here, I rarely wait!
Serve with slices of a toasted baguette topped with anchovy aioli, the luscious mayonnaise below made quickly in the food processor. Yes, you can use this on just about anything! It makes a lot and there’s only two egg yolks in the whole thing, so I don’t worry about the cholesterol in a tablespoon of this, and the flavor is well worth it. Adjust the ratio of olive oil according to the flavor of your particular variety. You might want more or less, or for a milder mayonnaise, omit it altogether and use just the neutral oil.
The decorations are all up to you, but don’t leave them off, it’s all part of the fun!
Shrimp and Artichoke Paella with Anchovy and Saffron Aioli
- 3 red peppers or 2 red and 1 yellow
- 1 lb. jumbo shrimp, shell on
- 2 to four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Spanish onion, diced
- 1 lb. spicy uncured vegetarian or chicken chorizo sausage
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp. good quality smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large pinch of saffron threads
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 cups Valencia rice, or other short-grain rice
- 3 cups of shrimp or fish stock, simmered and hot
- 1/3 cup thawed frozen peas
- 1 pkg. frozen or canned quartered artichokes to garnish
- Spanish olives to garnish
- Lemon wedges to garnish
- Fresh parsley to garnish
Roast the peppers under the broiler or over a gas flame. Wrap in a paper towel and set aside. When cool, or when you have a minute, rub off the charred peelings, leaving just a little for flavor. Take one red pepper and chop it up, this will be used in the cooking process. Take the other two peppers and slice them thinly and set aside. These will be used to garnish the finished dish.
To prepare the shrimp, use kitchen shears to cut along the backside of the shell from the neck end just to the tail, leaving the tail shell on if you like. Remove the intestinal track, and peel, placing the shells in a pot. Salt, and refrigerate until you are ready for them. Add a quart of water to the shrimp shells, toss in a bay leaf or two and a little salt and pepper, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes then set aside. Strain when ready for the stock. This is not an essential step, but why waste all that lovely shrimp flavor!
Heat your pan and add the olive oil. Add the chorizo, and the onions to the pan in an even layer. Sauté until the onions start to soften, then add the reserved diced red peppers, the garlic, the paprika, and oregano. Continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the rice and cook for a minute or two, until each grain is coated. If the pan feels dry, add more oil.
When the rice is all coated, add the tomatoes and cook a few more minutes to heat them, then add the stock, reserving a cup or so to add later if need be. Sprinkle with the saffron, salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all up really well and cook for a few moments, then reduce the heat and cover. At this point, you want to stop stirring, but you can shake the pan a little if needed. You can either finish cooking this on top of the stove over low, or in the oven at 350, about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice is just about cooked.
Nestle in the shrimp, and put the heat back up to medium-high for a minute or so to set that bottom socarrat! Once a crust forms, you can see the outside edge browning, remove from the heat.
Decorate the top with the reserved peppers, the artichokes, toss in the olives, sprinkle with the peas, drizzle with a few of the lemons, and top it all with the parsley. This is always about the pretty!
Serve with charred toasts smeared with anchovy and saffron aioli.
Anchovy and Saffron Aioli
Use this on any dish! It’s wonderful on potatoes and other vegetables, as well as grilled fish or chicken.
- 1 pinch saffron
- 1 teaspoon hot water
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 anchovy filets, minced
- 1 tsp. French mustard
- 2 egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- Few grinds of pepper
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- Zest of one lemon
- ¾ cup neutral oil
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, add hot water to saffron and set aside to bloom while gathering the rest of the ingredients.
In a food processor combine garlic, anchovies, mustard, egg yolks, salt, pepper, lemon juice, zest, and bloomed saffron. Pulse a few times, then process and slowly start adding the oils, just a few drops at a time at first, slowly. The first part is a bit tedious, but necessary if the mayonnaise is going to get a good emulsion. After tediously adding the first quarter cup, you can add a bit faster, or fill up the food processor tube if it has the tiny hole in it. You will start hearing the sound of the mayonnaise change as it thickens. You’ll know when to stop.
If you don’t have a food processor, this can be done by hand with a large bowl and wire whisk. You will need to mince more finely the garlic and anchovies if you want a smooth mayonnaise.
Place in a serving bowl, sprinkle with a few smoked paprika flakes if you have them, and surround with toasted or charred bread.
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