Paella is a dish that is easy to love. Seafood, meat, vegetables all cooked together in rice, which soaks up and melds all the flavors of the different ingredients. Paella is best eaten when shared with a group of people. It is not unlike hunting for treasures, I’m always looking for that one last piece of meat or clam that had evaded others.

Paella originated from the Valencia region of Spain, and while there are many variation of Paella which may differ from region to region, the three most widely known types are Paella with Meat, Paella with seafood, and Mixed Paella, which has both meat and seafood.

I had some frozen lobster broth leftover from the Lobster Fideos that I made a few weeks ago, and after reading a mixed paella recipe from a recent issue of Food and Wine magazine, I knew I had a good use for the broth.

There are few specialty items that you can substitute for when making a paella, but I would highly suggest spending the time to find the get the right ingredients if you can. Traditionally Paellas are made with rice from Calasparra or Bomba. These varieties are short grained, and can soak up a lot of liquid, which is what you want since you want a dense rice that is going to cook slowly along with the vegetables, meat, and seafood, and not disintegrate easily and become mushy during the cooking process. Long grain rice doesn’t take long to cook, therefore is not the best choice to substitute for Calasparra or Bomba rice. Some recipes calls to substitute Arborio rice, and although Arborio rice is short grained, it is a lot more starchy than Calasparra or Bomba rice, and it releases a creaminess that may turn the paella too mushy. Traditional paella should have rice that is cooked through on the top and has a crispy bottom that the Spanish name “Socarrat”.

I found both Calasparra and Bomba rice at the local Whole Foods market under the brand Matiz. You can also find this rice online.

Another item that you should invest in if you like cooking paella is a proper paella pan, which is very wide and about 2 to 2.5 inches deep. These can be found at Target or specialty cookware stores like William Sonoma, and depending on the size, they are between $10 and $20.

Traditionally the Paella is cooked over a grill or open fire that can accommodate the wide size of the pan, and it’s actually quite difficult to cook paella over an electric stove since the coils are never big enough for the paella pan. In my past experiences the rice is cooked in the center of the pan but not near the edges of the pan since the heat never reaches all the way. I’d have to either stir the rice so it cooks evenly or I’d have to rotate the pan so that the edges get the heat source evenly, but both ways are troublesome and may not produce the best results. A gas stove is a lot better but still not as good as an open fire, but since I didn’t have time to build a fire on a weeknight, I just relied on my gas stove with the largest cook top.

The first step to the recipe I used is to make the Lobster infused broth, but since I already had leftovers, all I had to do is to reheat the frozen block of broth and keep it warm on the stove. I substituted shrimp for lobster, and chicken drumettes for chicken pieces. In past paella experiences, my pan was never large enough for all the ingredients listed in the recipe, so I always size down and cook half or less the full recipe.

Next I made the sofrito, which is a Spanish cooking paste made out of reduced bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and dried Spanish Nora chilies. The trick to making a good sofrito that packs punches of flavor is to cook it slowly, taking time for the ingredients to break down and the flavors to meld together. This should take at least 20 to 30 minutes.

The Nora chilie is stemmed and seeded and soaked in a bowl of hot water until softened, about 15 minutes.

The hydrated pepper is finely chopped and returned to the bowl of soaking liquid. Next finely chopped onions are cooked over moderate heat until translucent in a medium sauce pan.

Chopped tomatoes, garlic, diced Nora chili and the soaking liquid, white wine vinegar, and diced red bell pepper are added to the pan and simmered over low heat.

Like I mentioned before, take time to stir and let the sofrito cook slowly, until all the liquid has evaporated.

The color of the sofrito will turn from bright red to orange, to a dark reddish brown, and the texture will become paste like, and the sofrito should be reduced to a scant cupful.

You will need only about 1/2 cup for the half of the recipe, but the rest of the sofrito can be frozen and used later.

The lobster broth and the sofrito can be made ahead of time, and the paella cooking time only takes about 30 to 40 minutes. The chicken takes the longest to cook, therefore it is cooked first. The drumettes are browned with a few table spoons of olive oil in the paella pan.

The chicken is transferred to a plate once browned, and the lobster broth is added to deglaze the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.

The sofrito is added to the pan and brought to a boil.

The rice and beans are added to the pan and brought to a boil, and the chicken pieces added back to the pan.

Cook the paella over medium high heat, without stirring the rice, beans or the meat until the broth is almost all absorbed. At this point, add lobster broth one cup at a time, only adding more when the broth is completely absorbed.

You will have added about 2 or 3 cups total, and by the time you finish, the rice should slightly browned and crisp at the bottom. Keep adding the broth until the rice at the top is tender throughout the pan. Clams, and mussels are added to the pan and the pan covered until the mussels and clams starts to open.

The shrimp is added to the pan and covered until they are cooked through and the shellfish are wide open.

The Paella is served with slices of lemon.

Chicken and Seafood Paella

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