I don’t know if it’s my Asian lineage that makes me genetically predisposed to having an affinity for rice, but I love rice dishes. Whether it is risotto, wappa meshi, Hainanese chicken rice, or rice pudding, I can’t get enough of the humble grain.
Paella is another one of my favorites, not just because of its simple one-pot preparation, but because of the depth of flavor you just don’t see in most rice dishes. It’s also great because you can make it using a nearly infinite combination of meats, seafood and vegetables.
While you can get creative with what you put into paella, the key is to take advantage of the Maillard reaction and brown everything. Just to recap, the Maillard reaction is a browning reaction where heat causes amino acids and sugars to react to create new flavor compounds. Put simply, it’s the basis for making food taste better.
I usually start by browning my meats. Then I use the fat released by the meat to brown the sofrito (the aromatic veggies). But that’s not where the browning ends. If you’re a fan of paella, you know that having a layer of nearly burnt rice called soccarat , at the bottom is how great paellas are judged.
To get a good layer of soccarat, it’s crucial to avoid the temptation to stir the rice as it’s cooking. Left undisturbed, the bottom layer of rice will reach a dark brown, giving the dish its signature flavor, setting it apart from almost any other rice dish.
Clams and Chicken Paella
Food blogger Marc Matsumoto loves cooking paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish, not just because of its simple one-pot preparation, but because of the depth of flavor you don’t see in most rice dishes. You can make it using a nearly infinite combination of meats, seafood and vegetables, but Marc explains his combination selection in a full post on the Fresh Tastes blog.
- 250 grams chicken thighs cut into 1" chunks (9 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- black pepper
- 200 grams chorizo, cut into chunks (7 ounces)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 small red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups short grain rice (Bomba preferably)
- 1 teaspoon pimentón
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 400 grams Manila clams (14 ounces)
- parsley for garnish
- At least thirty minutes before you start your paella, put the chicken in a bowl along with the olive oil, thyme, salt, and black pepper to marinate.
- When you’re ready to start the paella, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).
- In a paella pan, or cast iron pot over medium high heat, fry the chorizo until browned. Because the chorizo contains a lot of fat, you shouldn't need to add any oil. When each piece of chorizo has a brown crust on it, transfer it to a bowl
- Add the marinated chicken to the pan in a single layer and let it fry undisturbed until it's nice and brown on one side. When it's ready to flip, it should not stick to the pan anymore. Flip the chicken and brown the other side, then transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo.
- Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic, and sauté until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown.
- Add the rice, pimentón, saffron, and bay leaf and stir until the rice is well coated in oil.
- Add the stock, and then return the chicken and chorizo to the pot, stirring to combine. Taste and add salt as needed, but keep in mind that some of the liquid will evaporate so you won’t want to make it too salty.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer uncovered and without stirring until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice (about 10 minutes).
- Place the clams on top of the rice and put the whole pot in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the rice from the oven and cover with a clean dishcloth. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a food blogger and photographer who spreads his passion for food through his websites norecipes.com and wanderingcook.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blogs in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.