Last week wasn’t a great one for Lolita. While Nemo buried us in two feet of snow, the tumultuous passage of a delightful kidney stone began its painful descent through my bowels, knocking me out for almost 4 days. Needless to say, I missed Valentine’s Day; it passed me by in a Percocet fueled haze. I had promised the husband-man to make him whatever he wanted for V-Day, and he requested paella – something very difficult to make in the traditional way with the crappy electric stove I’ve got. But never one to back down from a challenge, I did – in my more lucid moments – ponder how I could create a paella -type meal for the ol’ man given my kitchen’s limitations. By Saturday, I’d both birthed that stone and had figured out this dish: a deconstructed paella construct, replete with all the flavors we’d tasted that glorious spring in Barcelona when we ate panfuls of the stuff along the sparkling Mediterranean coast. My creation contains all the seafood I could pack into the dish — scallops, shrimp, cod, clams, and lobster – along with deep roasted peppers, a chicken chorizo risotto, and a saffron butter-cream. With a some toasted baguette served ala pa’ amb tomaquet, each bite transported us back to our Iberian adventures in a way only good food can do.
Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup arborio rice
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tbs tomato paste
1 quart seafood stock
1 large chicken chorizo sausage
chili powder, hungarian paprika, black pepper, sea salt, EVOO
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
4-5 threads of saffron
4 littleneck clams
2 lobster claws
2 large scallops
4 large shrimp
Because it takes a little while, I start by roasting my peppers. It’s easy: roll them around in EVOO, lay them on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before throwing them in a 400° oven. Roast for about 10 minutes, rolling them over every few minutes so the skins blacken. Remove them from the heat, toss them and all the juices from the pan into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until cooled. Then you can remove the skins very easily. Set this aside for now.
I make risotto all the time — just search for it here on my blog and you’ll see several different preparations. This one was different for me, though, since I usually aim for a white risotto and not a red one, but it still started the same: I sauté my minced garlic and onion in EVOO in a small saucepan until just translucent, then I add my rice. I stir everything to coat well with the oil, and to toast the grains of rice a bit to make them more receptive to the liquids I’ll be adding.
Then I start adding my seafood stock, which is simmering in another pot on the stove. You want to use warm stock, which will keep the rice cooking instead of cooling it down with each addition. I add about 4 ounces at a time, stirring well continually, until each batch of liquid has been absorbed by the rice. It takes about 30 minutes to stir a good pot of risotto.
At about the halfway point, I decide to add a tablespoon of tomato puree. Traditional paella always has a bit of tomato in it, and this concentrated condiment gives just the right of sweetness and acidic kick to the dish. Oh, and I keep adding stock and stirring.
My risotto is almost done. It has increased in volume significantly, and when I test a grain with my tongue and teeth it is just tender all the way through, with a slightly al dente center. At this point, I add all the juices from my roasted peppers, which have been sweating all their delicious goodness into the bowl all this time.
Along with my chopped roasted peppers, the chorizo adds the unctuousness needed for a good paella – where chicken and sausage definitely belong. I keep this warm on the back burner until I’m ready for it.
I then add my cream, and layer my seafood into the pan to gently poach. My cream/butter has been tinted a thrilling yellow from the saffron threads, and the scent emanating through the kitchen is divine. I cover the pan, shaking it from time to time to encourage the fishy stuff to swim around, before using tongs to flip each piece so it can cook through thoroughly.
Here’s where the “reconstruction” bit comes in. I’ve been obsessing about forms these days, ‘cuz I love the idea of stacked meals. I’m too cheap to spend the $20 or so on real cooking forms, so I have a tendency to cannibalize all sorts of stuff in my kitchen to make shapes I can work with. This is a tea canister from some swanky over-priced tea shack, but with the bottom removed it makes a decent, entree-sized form for my purposes. I start by laying my strips of pepper out on the plate, before spooning a layer of rice into the form, followed by bits of the cooked cod, another layer of rice, then a layer with my shrimp and scallops, before topping it off with more risotto.
Crowning my tower of delight is my succulent lobster claw, which is flanked by eat-me clams and standing in a rich, sweet pool of saffron butter-milk. I’ve toasted some slices of baguette, rubbed them with garlic, and served them with a tomato half doused with EVOO, garlic, and sea salt – which is scraped across the crusty bread, leaving a swathe of tasty red yumminess to compliment the dish. All the component parts of a paella are here: fresh, tender seafood, rich, creamy rice, roasted peppers and spicy sausage, chicken, and of course, saffron. An elegant meal in honor of a long love affair: with both my husband, and food glorious food.