January 24, 2010
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I’ve wanted to try my hands at cooking up paella ever since watching how it is traditionally and painstakingly on either Travel and Living or Asian Food Channel. There was something captivating about the dedication and care that went into making a single pan of aromatic paella. I wanted to re-create that. I wanted to step into the shoes (imitation ones, you’ll get what I mean when you read on.) of the men who stood faithfully by the searing heat of orange and pine branches, and tended to a pan for an hour at best. Traditionally, men were the ones to cook paella. I have no idea why. I suppose it was all the more reason for me to whip this up for dinner tonight because I found nothing stereotypically macho about creamy rice.
Somewhere in the world, spanish traditionalists will be hunting for a picture of me to pin up on a well-used dart board. While many would view the paella as Spain’s national dish, it is in fact a regional Valencian dish and they hold enough pride in it for it to be their identity. One of the many things that would make a Valencian lapse into seizures would be to substitute spanish calasparra or bomba rice for anything else. I used italian canaroli rice. My name’s on a hit list somewhere…
Peas brighten up any dull looking dish.
On top of such a cardinal sin (since I’m doomed, I might as well walk up to the guillotine myself), I used a skillet instead of a paellera, transferred everything into a chinese cast-iron wok when I realised I was over enthusiastic with the ingredients, and dolloped everything back into the skillet to serve at the table. I’d like to see someone use a wok as a serving dish. Now, one would ideally have minimal contact with the paella once the stock is poured in and the rice is allowed to bubble away for 20 minutes because any amount of stirring would disturb the formation of the socarrat – the crisp, flavourful burnt layer of rice at the bottom of the paellera. For those of you who have eaten clay pot rice, it is identical to the burnt rice that sticks to the surface of the clay pot, so you would know what I’m talking about when I say it is mighty tasty. I’m not helping in saving my neck here by confessing that I tossed everything from the wok back into the skillet, thereby chaffing and breaking the socarrat, and dumping it on top instead of at the bottom where it belonged. Desperate times…
I have to say, though I committed numerous offenses (the only redeeming ingredient I had was smoked paprika), it came out looking beautiful and very much edible. The entire pan was wiped clean. As if that wasn’t enough for me, I gleefully nibbled away a large portion of the crust of my mom’s freshly baked cranberry and flaxseed bread the moment it made it to the cooling rack from the bread-machine. I don’t have any excuse for this and I’ll be brutally honest about it.
It was crunchy.
I'll admit, I'm horrid.