Turning on the oven this time of year can feel so very wrong, and how many burgers can you possibly consume in one month (granted, a lot)? Enter paella. But does anyone actually ever make the Spanish rice and seafood-laced dish at home? Julian Serrano does, or at least at his Vegas restaurants Picasso and Julian Serrano.
Serrano gave Squid Ink his tips a while back for making paella (after the jump). Note that there is no need for questions when you mention the word paella to Serrano. He simply tells you everything you should know. The dish isn't nearly as complicated as the long ingredient list suggests -- making paella is similar in concept to risotto, but with the added bonus that the trick is not to stir the rice, so it's actually quite easy if you have all of your ingredients prepped ahead of time. Nor must you use lobsters. Shrimp or whatever else you have on hand works great. Serrano says he doesn't care much for the traditional chorizo sausage in his paella, but adds that peas are fine. Just fine.
Julian Serrano: Rice is the most important ingredient in paella. To cook it well, you need a shallow pan so you don't crowd [the rice]. You cook it like risotto, only without the cheese.
You also need very fresh [saffron]... but it can be hard to tell if it's fresh because you can't tell by the smell. Fresh saffron should release its color right away, and it shouldn't be too dry or have too much of a yellow color. Saffron is so expensive because it's picked by hand, but it's essential to the dish. You need to find a good supplier.
JS: The other trick is everything needs to be ready, prepped. So you can quickly put it together.
SI Note: At Picasso, Serrano has his vegetables chopped, and the chicken already sautéed to a golden brown before he starts adding chicken broth to the paella rice.
JS: Too many flavors is a problem, you want to avoid that. Some [paellas] have forty ingredients that all cook in different amounts of time. I prefer four to five ingredients.
Julian Serrano's Paella with chicken, lobster and clams
Note: Serrano suggests you build a hornillo, the traditional outdoor brick fire pit built to support a large, flat paella pan, to get that authentic smokey flavor. When that's not possible, there's always your stove top.
2 live lobsters, about 1¼ pounds each
6 chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4 to 4½ cups chicken stock
2 pinches of saffron
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and finely diced
2 cups Italian Arborio or Spanish rice
12 small clams (such as littlenecks), scrubbed clean
1 cup shelled peas
1 lemon, cut into 4 or 6 lengthwise wedges
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To parboil the lobsters, bring a large kettle of water to a boil. To keep the lobster tails from curling during cooking, lay the spoons along the center of the lobster tail on the stomach side, and tie in place with butcher's twine. Drop the lobsters into the boiling water, cover the pan, bring to a boil again, and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from the water and drop at once into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and cool the shells.
2. Untie the lobsters. Twist off the claws and joints, and then twist the tail off the body. Using shears cut the flippers off the ends and sides of the tails. Lay the tails on the counter, shell side up and with a large sharp knife slice the tail into rounds, or medallions, following the natural breaks in the shell. If the intestinal vein is visible near the top of the medallions, use the toothpick or skewer to poke it out. Break the joint sections off the claws and set aside with the medallions. Break off and discard the small pointed pincers from the claws, tipping the claws up and down as you do so to let the water drain out. Then lay the claws on the counter and use the back of a heavy knife to crack the shells in several places for easy meat removal later. Crack the knuckle shells in the same manner.
3. To prepare the chicken, cut each thigh in half crosswise and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil, set over moderately high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chicken (skin side down). Sear until the skin is golden-brown but the meat is still rare, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and set aside.
4. To prepare the saffron stock, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan and stir in the saffron. Keep at a simmer while preparing the rice.
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5. Set the paella pan over moderately low heat and drizzle with olive oil. Stir in the diced onion and cook, stirring often, until it just begins to color. Add the diced pepper and sauté for one minute, then stir in the garlic. Sauté for one additional minute, then stir in the tomato. Cook for several minutes, until the pan juices have evaporated, then stir in the rice.
6. Sauté, stirring for several minutes, until the rice begins to turn from translucent to almost milky in color. Gradually add the stock, stirring to mix the ingredients together and then spreading them out evenly in the pan. The stock should just cover the rice; if it does not, add a little bit more. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste. Do not stir the rice again.
7. Place the chicken, skin side up, around the circumference of the pan, about 2-inches from the sides of the pan. Tuck two clams into the rice next to each piece of chicken and then lay the lobster pieces on the opposite side. Overlap the claws in the center of the dish and scatter the peas over all. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the rice has completely absorbed the stock and appears moist but not wet, and the clams have opened (discard any unopened clams).
8. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Lay the lemon wedges on the side of the pan. Serve the paella directly from the pan.