Travel Culinarily to Spain with Paella

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Photo by Keri White

By Keri White

For those of you who read this column regularly, you know that I am an avid traveler, and local cuisine is a key focus when I visit new places.


Like everyone, I’m grounded these days, but I whipped up this paella as a way to enjoy Spain from the safety and comfort of mi casa.

A few notes on the recipe: There are probably as many versions of paella in España as there are chicken soup or brisket recipes among the Diaspora. Some are all chicken, others seafood, rabbit, sausage, vegetarian or a combination.

I have a friend who took a paella cooking class in Valencia (where it was allegedly invented) and said never, under any circumstances, should sausage be included. But, having lived in Madrid as a student, and traveled the country then and several times over the years, I have seen plenty of different types with many combos of ingredients (including chorizo, which is a spicy, smoked, pork-based sausage).

I found a spicy smoked turkey sausage that I thought would work as a reasonable substitute — and it did — but for those who dislike sausage, or if it is not readily available, omit it and ignore that step in the recipe. As for the rice, “bomba” is the traditional short-grain Spanish rice used in paella, but Arborio (risotto) or any short-grain white rice is a perfectly fine substitute.

If you and your crew are not fans of limas or string beans, skip them. Add cooked peas or flat beans if you wish, or not. We are not great lovers of bell peppers, but most recipes include them during the onion sautéing stage. If you love them, chop one up and heave it in. The recipe below is a framework — it’s important to have the right proportion of liquid to rice, so don’t mess with the canned tomatoes or the broth, but the other ingredients are fine to improvise.

We served this the Spanish way, that is to say with a simple green salad of baby lettuce dressed with olive oil and vinegar, a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of Rioja. Perfecto!

Paella

Serves 6-8

3 boneless chicken breasts
5 cloves garlic, separated
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ cup wine, divided
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 smoked turkey sausages, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
Pinch saffron (a few threads)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
3½ cups chicken broth
2 cups bomba, Arborio or short-grain rice
1 package frozen lima beans, cooked
2 handfuls of fresh string beans, trimmed
1 bunch parsley, chopped, for garnish

Marinate the chicken: Cut it into bite-sized cubes and place it in a container or zipseal bag with 2 cloves of crushed garlic, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and ¼ cup white wine. Allow it to marinade several hours or overnight.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet with a cover and sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant.

Push the onions and remaining crushed garlic to the rim of the pan and sear the chicken on all sides (this may need to be done in batches). When seared, but not cooked through, remove the chicken from the pan, place it in a bowl and set it aside.

Sear the sausages in the center of the pan on both sides; place them in the bowl with the chicken and set aside.

Add the remaining teaspoon of salt to the onion mixture, scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and deglaze with the remaining ¼ cup of wine; scrape again. Allow the wine to boil.

Add the canned tomatoes, turmeric, saffron and chicken broth; stir.

Return the chicken and sausage to the pan and bring the mixture just barely to a boil.

Lower the heat, and sprinkle the rice evenly into the pan, spreading it out evenly amid the ingredients. Cover and allow the paella to cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the liquid is mostly absorbed.

Strew the raw string beans and cooked limas on top of the rice, cover and allow it to cook another 5 minutes or so until the beans are crisp-tender.

Stir the paella to mix the beans into the rice. Top it with parsley and serve.

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