When Europe began allowing vaccinated Americans to cross its borders, a lot of us slammed the “buy now” button for an airline ticket faster than you can say "hola." But others took pause. The Delta variant is dangerous, and after a year-and-change of consistently astronomical stress levels, a staycation might seem like the far more relaxing summertime plan. But just because you aren't packing your suitcase quite yet doesn't mean you can't take full advantage of the double-vaxxed lifestyle. Readers, allow us to invite you on a trip to Spain… by way of your kitchen.
Paella is a classic Valencian specialty that’s positively perfect this time of year. This dish turns any meal into a special occasion, and it's perfect for feeding a crowd (accompanied by, porque no, some delicious sustainable wine).
It's also notably a favorite of our founder and resident chef, Laura Klein, who first encountered it in Nerja, Spain and has treasured it as a special dish ever since.
“I like to make paella for a crowd or a dinner party particularly during the summer,” she says. “It’s fun, it’s family style and people are always impressed by it. And it’s not something that people find at our local restaurants or eat often, so it’s a bit outside the box.”
In terms of a recipe, Klein lets the ingredients be her guide.
“I stick with the classic Spanish version as inspiration,” she says, noting she blends a combination of vegetables, Spanish chorizo, and fresh fish or seafood with the base of saffron-scented rice. One of her favorite go to recipes is her Seafood and Chorizo Paella. When choosing the seafood, Klein relies on a nearby expert.
“I have a local fishmonger that I’ve gotten to know over the years whom I know and trust,” she says. Bolstered by some research on SeafoodWatch.org for the most sustainable options in her area, she lets him guide her to the best choices.
“So it comes out a little different every time.”
Michelin-starred Chef Danny Lledó of Washington D.C.’s Xiquet echoes Klein’s call for quality products, especially the seafood, which he says is sure to bring this dish to the next level every time. But the most essential ingredient, in Lledó’s opinion? The broth.
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“The broth is the most important part and will really bring the flavor of the rice to life,” he says.
Don't cut corners here: use a homemade chicken stock, veggie stock, or fish fumet to elevate your paella to next-level deliciousness. Here's our favorite bone broth recipe to get you started.
(Want to up the seafood flavor a notch? You can also try out his fish-and-lobster-shell broth version, which I detail in full at Inside Hook.)
In terms of techniques, paella isn't all that difficult to prepare. One caveat? Creating the soccarat, the crispy rice at the bottom of the pan. Fortunately, mastering this calls for nothing more than wholesome neglect.
“Most home cooks make the mistake of stirring it too much and not letting the pan do the work,” Klein says. “If you stir it too much, you’ll never achieve the socarrat.”
“The caramelization is a desired quality of the paella,” says Lledó. “Don't be afraid of it!”
To make her paella, Klein relies on the carbon steel paella pan from Made In. Carbon steel is a favorite among chefs because of its outstanding heat conduction, and the beautiful pan is also hardy enough to stand up to grilling over an open flame.
“It’s very rugged and rustic, and it can take a beating,” says Klein. “I can put it on the grill, put it over direct fire or flame, and not worry about ruining it.”
And best of all, it makes for a beautiful, convivial serving dish.
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