(food without the use of flash photography)
(and with an off-camera flash-- see the difference?)
This post is about several people and I'll narrate in no particular order.
I was going to be very lazy about posting this year and had planned on shying away from the blog until my friend, Mia, had decided to blog about this blog last week. Seriously Mia, you just had to do it when I was about to put this blog to an end. Tee Hee. So thank you for encouraging me to make this a "going concern." The other moms in that awesome party you had invited me to kept letting me know how my recipes have been useful. What a great reminder of why this blog came to be.
Then a good friend of mine had recently returned from her trip to Paris so we decided to have dinner at my place, thus the beginning of Food Nights in Bangkok. We've done this several times in several occasions -- when I used to live in Kuala Lumpur and she would visit or when we both lived in Makati, literally our buildings facing one another's. We also used to work together, so it was the nature of her job to ask me to whip up several dishes in the kitchen for her ever-so-thorough market research. Paten, this one's for you!
And last but not the least, a friend from childhood, Rose (married to a Thai), with a "bun in her oven," requested for the recipe of Paella this morning. Now I don't know about you, but how do you say "no" to a pregnant woman? You just don't (ha ha).
So without further adieu, here's my very-easy-to-follow Paella recipe.
First, allow your saffron to bloom. You can click on this link to learn how. Saffron is an integral ingredient for this dish and I highly encourage you to use saffron threads rather powder or some form of processed copy (like those instant paella mixes). And yes, I'll be a food snob on this one.
In a hot cast iron pan (if you happen to have a paellera, now would be a good time to use it), saute your prawns, clams, and squid. I would've loved to throw in a few mussels in there but finding fresh seafood in Bangkok late in the evening can be a nightmare. Once they're all cooked, remove from the pan and set aside. Place the jus (liquid rendered from cooking the seafood) aside too, which will come in handy later. Saute sliced chicken thighs (would've loved to use rabbit, but how and where to find one in Bangkok can be, pardon my French, a b@#$!) and once they're about to brown, add sliced onions and garlic. Allow them to caramelize then add a dash or two of smoked paprika (the sweet variety if you have some and when I say "smoked," this means you've allowed for it to sweat in a hot pan with no oil -- sort of like releasing it's own oils allowing it to become robust in flavor). Deglaze with wine or if you don't have any, just use chicken stock. Toss in some thinly sliced bell peppers (the colorful, the better), chopped tomatoes, and sliced chorizo Pamplona then allow it to sweat a little. Add a tablespoon or two of tomato puree and saute for two minutes. Throw in your risotto or short-grain rice and saute yet again, for another two minutes.
There is a ratio between stock or cooking liquid with the risotto -- and the arguments can get pretty much heated, but I'd rather not say how much, with each brand having their own magic number. But generally speaking, it's anywhere between 1 part risotto to 2 or 3 parts cooking liquid (chicken broth + seafood stock or the jus leftover from sauteeing it earlier + the saffron in hot water). Good grief! Have I been ranting? Right, by this time, your pan should have the chicken, onions, garlic, chorizo, bell peppers, and cooking liquid all happily mingling with one another. You can toss in a sprig of fresh rosemary and bay leaf at this point, which will definitely add personality and a kick to your dish. Bring everything to a boil then gently simmer without a lid. Do not touch the pan, do not stir and basically, do not do anything with it. Leave it and let it get all toasty underneath. Unlike risotto which needs stirring and constant attention, paellas tend to be more tough -- it doesn't like to be bothered, so let it be. Tough love!
Once the risotto is cooked to perfect doneness, you can add all the seafood we set aside earlier and garnish with sliced lemons and another sprig of rosemary. I served this with an aioli (just mayonnaise and fresh garlic puree) to add some balance and an easy salad. Just remember, this is not a risotto. So it shouldn't be wet, creamy, or anything risotto-like. It should be drier than risotto, with a good crunch as the grains come closer to the pan. In fact, if some of the grains have gotten toasty to the point of almost getting burnt, you've hit the right spot. And chances are, if I know you, I'll invite myself for dinner at your place. That's just how I like my Paella.
Here are some photos of our food night...