Saffron is what gives the rice a slight golden colour. Saffron threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (flower). They need to be harvested by hand in the two week window that the flower blooms. It takes 150 flowers to produce 1 g of dried saffron, granting it the title as the world's most expensive spice. It is often sold in matchbox-sized containers, rather than in large jars like cinnamon. Luckily, a few threads are all that's needed to infuse the dish with a distinct flavour that can be described, if possible, as warm and sunny. Actually, I'm not too sure if that's due to the saffron's flavour or simply the dish's association with the Spanish Mediterranean.
The trickiest part of making paella is toasting the rice in contact with the pan to get a crispy caramelized base (called socarrat) without burning it. I tend to chicken out and pull the pan off the heat earlier than is necessary, but even without it, this paella is a sunny (and delicious) holiday in a bowl.
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. saffron threads
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 chicken thighs, boned
1/2 lb. pork sausages
1 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely
2 1/2 cups risotto-type short-grain rice, such as
1 cup shelled English peas, fresh or frozen
12 medium shrimp, peeled
Fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Directions:In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a gentle simmer and maintain over low heat.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the salt with the saffron until a powder forms. Add the garlic and grind with the salt and saffron. Set aside.
Cut the chicken thighs and sausages into 1-inch pieces.
Place a 16-inch paella pan or a large, wide, heavy-bottomed fry pan over high heat (or over a metal ring set on a rack over coals) and pour in the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, and sausages and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and squid to a plate and set aside. Reserve the pan with the remaining oil.
Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and add the tomatoes, stirring to evenly distribute the tomatoes. Add paprika and 2 ladlefuls of the hot stock and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir a little stock into the mortar with the saffron mixture and mix well. Pour the contents of the mortar into the saucepan of stock.
Add the rice to the paella pan, followed by the peas and all but 1⁄2 cup of the remaining stock. Stir everything together thoroughly.
Arrange shrimp on the top of the rice. Return the paella to a simmer and cook until the meat and fish are cooked through and the rice is tender but not too soft, about 20 minutes. If the paella is not yet done and all the liquid is absorbed, add a little of the reserved stock as needed.
Turn the heat on high and allow rice to toast for 5 minutes (do not stir). Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Let stand for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle thoroughly and the rice to absorb any remaining juices. Serve warm, not hot, garnished with the parsley. Serves 8.
Adapted from Williams Sonoma-Barcelona.
Image: Property of beets and bites