I’m a big fan of Mark Bittman. I have 6 of his cookbooks, all solid. I’m sure part of what I like about him is his unabashedly New York attitude (I’m a native New Yorker). He’s not a purist when it comes to food, another thing I appreciate. And, he’s willing to break with tradition even if the purists are out there, just waiting to tut-tut about him monkeying with a classic. A classic like Paella.
Paella is the traditional rice, chicken and seafood dish of Valencia. My daughter enjoyed true Paella last summer when she visited Valencia and said it was very good. Lucky kid. I have never had the true Paella so I don’t know what I’m missing. But, I do know that chicken and seafood cooked with short grain rice in rich broth is good stuff.
I live over 1000 miles from the closest ocean/sea. The odds of me recreating an authentic Paella are pretty slim anyway. Not only is the sea very far away, but cooking short grain rice just right this way at 5400 feet is tricky. You need to tweak the liquid amount and time in Bittman’s (or any other) Paella recipe. If you are making this at altitude, plan to add at least ½-1 cup more liquid and you’ll need to cook it for an extra 10 minutes, I found. If you are adding seafood, which can easily overcook, don’t add it until 20 minutes in. To get the crust without burning (yes, mine burned just a bit, but still quite edible), you will need to reduce the heat because you will be cooking it longer. Bittman’s recipe says “if you smell it burning…” I didn’t smell it burning but I can guarantee it will burn if you cook it on medium-high for 30 minutes!
You can find the recipe on the New York Times site along with an helpful article by Bittman. If you want to see how impassioned people can get about him tinkering with a classic, check out the comments!
I could have used chicken broth, but I had a bunch of shrimp shells in the freezer, just asking to be made into stock. Makes a great shellfish stock that is perfect for rice with things. Here’s the recipe, from Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill. It’s very easy and you can stick it in the freezer, ready for the next time you want to be transported to Valencia. 🙂
(4 to 5 cups)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups raw shrimp shells (frozen ones work just as well)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
6 cups water
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup canned chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
In a large saucepan over high heat, heat the oil until very hot, nearly smoking. Add the shrimp shells, onion, carrot, and celery for 5 minutes. Add the water, wine, tomato, and bay leaf. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and maintain a simmer for 40 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or a fine strainer.
Can be doubled. Only store for 2 days, refrigerated, but can freeze and store for 6 months.