I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

April 4, 2010

The best of all worlds

How do you not love a meal that combines all of the best things to eat, made in one pot?

Every culture or cuisine has one that embodies the best that you have to offer regionally while using the staples that you have at hand. Minestrone, Fried Rice, Gumbo, Pot a Feu and Cassoulet are a a few that come to mind. Mix up some veg, some starch and some meat in one pot and you have delicious, well balanced meal.

But even if you do settle on on one of those "recipes" you are going to find a thousand variations. Every mother, aunt and grandmother will have her own version and the gentlemen in the family will most likely have their own opinions to interject. Each region has it's own specialties and each family its own traditions to add to the proverbial pot. It is truly a never ending journey on the quest to find the best. Fortunately for me, I am not stuck to any one road and am always up for the next road that looks interesting.

With dinners on prior nights weighing on my mind and future dinners looming, I didn't want to overload on any one protein so I was kind of hoping for a combo of sorts that would satiate my current craving for something.....else. You know what I mean?

When I think of these types of meals, I personally thing of two different dishes that I can go face down in....Fried Rice, which is a catch all for anything you have in the fridge and can handle pretty much any vegetable or protein and then the more lavish dish from Spain called Paella, which requires just a bit more forethought and possibly more shopping effort.

When I googled recipes for Paella it seemed like there were a thousand different variations, traditional Chicken, Vegetarian, Squid, Rabbit....and the bases vary as well as the proteins. Some have an extra heavy serving of paprika to make it red, some use a tomato base and add in sofrito, which is a grated tomato, onion and spice mixture. I even found versions that were curry based-but that just sounded like a step in a very odd direction. The one thing the do all have in common is the base of saffron, rice and olive oil.

Saffron is, by weight, the most expensive spice on earth, ranging from $500-$5,000 per pound. Its distinctive smell is an automatic food "turn on" for me, it can be one of a few dishes that really use it as a base. It is also used in the dying industry as it has the ability to turn not only your food, but fabrics an intense yellow. Enough trivia for ya? Moving on!

As today is Easter Sunday, when I hit the store yesterday to grab some meat, I found that there was not a single chicken (whole, cut up or otherwise) left on the shelf, leaving me to veer off in a different direction. I grabbed shrimp and clams and then scored with some spicy andouille sausage (decent substitute for Spanish Chorizo in a pinch) and a half rack of baby back ribs.

The one thing about this dish is that it is almost impossible to make a small batch....dinner for 2 with Paella tends to turn in to dinner for 2 with leftovers or dinner for 6 quite easily. I have to continually remind myself to hold back and not over do it in any area. Because there are so many ingredients, they tend to all of a sudden pile up until you have enough for an army. So I was a very good girl when I only grabbed 6 clams, less than a half pound of shrimp and used less than half of the half rack of ribs.

Paella a la Yennifer (es mi nombre en Espanol)

Spanish Chorizo (hard sausage) or Andouille Sausage, sliced in half & sliced on the bias
6 Baby Back Ribs, seasoned with paprika, cumin, salt & pepper
2 T Olive Oil

In a large high sided pan, saute sausage until brown, remove and drain on paper towels. Bring oil up to temperature and sear ribs on all sides until brown, drain on paper towels. These do not need to be fully cooked. Wipe pan clean of any burnt particles.

1 Onion, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, Chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves Garlic, minced

Sweat the Onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil and then add peppers and garlic until tender.

1-1/2 cups rice
3 Cups hot Chicken Broth with....
Saffron, 1 Tsp-ish....use your best judgement based upon the quality of the saffron, it should be PUNGENT!!!

Add the rice to the veggies and stir for a few minutes, add all the chicken broth and saffron and stir for a second until it is blended. Arrange ribs on top of the rice and cook for 10 minutes.

6 Large Clams
1/2 pound Shrimp, raw and shelled
6 oz frozen peas.

Add Clams to the top and cover the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, covered

Add Shrimp to the pot and arrange so it looks pretty. :) Sprinkle Peas on top and cook for a few more minutes.

At this point you need to use your best judgement about when things are done...the clams need to be open (if they don't open, steam the super quick...but if they don't ever open don't eat them!), the shrimp should be pink and tender. The rice may browned/crispy at the bottom of the pot, it's really no big thing, crispy rice is actually pretty damn tasty. :)

Your two biggest dilemmas? How to make it small enough for 2 or who to invite for dinner.

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