22 March 2014

Paella — rice, chicken, pork, seafood, and sausages

It had been years since I had cooked or even eaten the Spanish rice dish called paella. I remember that we bought some at the market in Amboise ten years ago when friends from San Francisco were visiting. A vendor there prepares paella in gigantic pans on Sunday mornings (or used to), in quantities that can feed a hundred people.

It dawned on me Thursday morning that we had nearly everything we needed for a good paella: rice, chicken broth, chicken parts, spicy Spanish sausages, roasted red peppers, pork belly, shrimp, onions, garlic, herbs, and spices. Walt was going to the supermarket to buy some fish fillets, so I told him to pick up a few ripe tomatoes too. The ingredient list was complete.

And I had forgotten how easy it is to make paella. It's not necessarily a quick job, because you have to slice and dice a lot of the ingredients before you put the whole dish together. Tomatoes need to be peeled, seeded, and chopped. Red peppers need to be roasted, peeled, and sliced. (Of course, you can buy them already prepared, if you're lucky.) Shrimp need to be shelled and deveined. Or not...

The first step is to sauté the chicken parts (I used four drumsticks) and some big chunks of smoked pork belly (lardons fumés) in olive oil until they are browned and at least partially cooked. Then you add in a chopped onion and three or four chopped garlic cloves, all peeled.

When the onion and garlic are starting to cook, add in the tomato, the roasted red pepper, a bay leaf or two, and some sweet paprika, some cayenne or other hot pepper powder, a dozen or so fennel seeds, a good pinch of dried thyme, and some saffran or turmeric (curcuma) for color. Don't forget the salt and black pepper. Let it all cook for another five minutes.

Finally, add a pound (500 g) of rinsed raw rice to the pan and stir everything together carefully so that the rice gets coated with the flavorful oil in the bottom of the pan. Pour a liter of boiling chicken broth (or water) over all, and again gently stir everything together one last time so that all the rice is moistened. Put a lid on the pan or baking dish, and cook it at a low simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes, either on top of the stove or in a hot oven.

Taste some of the rice to make sure it's done. Add more liquid (water) and extend the cooking time for five minutes or as needed. Almost as a garnish, when you are about five minutes from taking the paella off the heat, push a dozen or so raw shrimp and some chunks of raw fish down into the rice and let them cook. You could also do the same with some whole mussels or small clams and give them just enough time to open up in the hot rice.

 A 2002 photo of the gigantic pan of paella cooking at the Sunday morning market in Amboise

Optionally, a couple of pre-cooked Spanish chorizo or chorizette sausages (our SuperU has them) are good with the paella. Serve the dish with lemon wedges. Here's a recipe similar to mine, for proportions and ingredients, but in French. It could serve six with six pieces of chicken and three sausages:

Paella valenciana

1 poulet (1,5 kg environ)
400 g de palourdes
12 grosses crevettes décortiquées
500 g de riz
250 g de lardons
2 petits poivrons rouges
3 grosses tomates
1 oignon
5 gousses d'ail
1 feuille de laurier
piment doux en poudre
2 doses de safran
1 l de bouillon de volaille
1 citron
8 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive
sel, poivre

Préchauffez le four à 240°C.

Lavez les poivrons, ouvrez-les et épépinez-les. Passez-les 10 à 15 min au four, jusqu'à ce que la peau soit brune et se boursoufle. Ôtez la peau et détaillez la chair en lanières. Réglez le four à 180°C.

Ebouillantez les tomates 1 minute, rafraîchissez-les et pelez-les. Ouvrez-les en deux, ôtez la base du pédoncule et les pépins. Détaillez les moitiés de tomates en morceaux de 2 cm. Pelez l'oignon et l'ail, hachez-les menu.

Découpez le poulet en morceaux et le lard en dés de 3 cm de côté. Faites revenir le tout dans une large poêle avec 6 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive. Ajoutez ensuite l'oignon et l'ail, faites sauter pendant 2 minutes. Assaisonnez.

Incorporez les tomates et les poivrons, faites revenir quelque temps, puis ajoutez les aromates et le riz. Versez le bouillon. Laissez cuire 25 minutes à feu doux sans remuer. Lavez les palourdes dans plusieurs eaux.

Faites revenir les palourdes dans le reste d'huile jusqu'à ce que les coquilles s'ouvrent. Ajoutez les palourdes et les crevettes au riz, laissez cuire 5 minutes à feu doux. Garnissez de quartiers de citron et servez chaud.


  1. Whaooor!!
    Now that looks really scrummy....
    to me those shrimps are prawns...
    and good sized ones at that...

    no, got to go and eat something....

  2. Those are actually fairly small shrimp — I call them shrimp, a collective noun, no plural, but some Americans might say prawns, which are usually larger. Dublin Bay prawns are langoustines in French, aren't they? I used crevettes for the paella.

  3. By the way, that word "scrummy" is not one I like. Written, it's okay. But unless you use it carefully, in American English what you'd end up saying is "that looks crummy" — not exactly the same idea. I assume it derives from 'scrumptious'.

    By the way again, Tim, what exactly are "shrimps" in your dialect? Same as prawns? Is there another word?

    1. Shrimp [Crangon vulgaris], English style, are small brown shrimps [red as per the norm when cooked]...
      caught on the sandy foreshore / beach in shrimp nets...
      they are about 3/4ths an inch long... a really good sized one is an inch to inch and a half.
      The edible bit is normally about half an inch by 3/8ths diameter.
      The smaller ones are often eaten 'whole' once cooked, just the head and front legs torn off...
      personally, I'll peel them!!

      Cooked and shelled, they were often sold in pubs in butter...
      or in their shells in vinegar.
      A live shrimp can be told from a prawn by the fact that it has no nose...
      the prawns have a rostrum... the long jagged spike that sticks out the front...
      the shrimp has an almost blunt head with a tiny spike...ie: no nose!

      The rest is in pictures... they speak a thousand words...
      This is a young lad "shrimping"... English style...
      with a holiday sized net [remind me of Cornish holidays...

      And this is a Frenchman in Normandy...
      cleaning his larger version of the same style net

      and finally....
      This is a picture of a professional shrimper at Hastings around 1890

      And this is Marks & Spencer's Potted Shrimp on a plate with some fresh bread!
      obviously not in France...
      she calls the baguette "artisan"...
      to distinguish it from all the "French" steamed baguettes in UK supermarkets.

    2. For three-eights inch...
      please read 3/16ths....
      otherwise you will end up with half a prawn...
      in fact, reading down, they sound a bit like your Bay shrimp...
      shrimp are small...
      prawns are bigger...
      Dublin Bay prawns are just too expensive!!
      To call someone a "shrimp" in the UK is a derisory term....
      and nowadays, with people learning kick-boxing....
      just might be a term to avoid!!
      A friend of mine from school, Jonesy, was a true midget....
      in his late teens he used to ride a "monkey bike" ...
      if you remember those [Honda I think made them]...
      and wore a Hells Angels style jacket with "Not so much of a shrimp... more of a prawn!" on the back....
      he went to Oxford to study Math... he was a maths wiz!
      When I last heard about him from someone he was a Professor!!

    3. Your brown shrimp and ours are completely different animals. Yours, what in French are called crevettes grises, are unknown, I think, in North America. Our brown shrimp (Peneaus aztecus) are much larger. When we took the English language to America, we applied familiar terms to a whole different world of plants and animals. Very confusing.

    4. "we applied familiar terms to a whole different world of plants and animals. Very confusing...."
      Yep, sure is!!
      But, quite understandable... the first settlers had to have some means of comparison, and then things stuck!!
      Especially if they tasted the same/similar....
      And then along came the Germans with their names, and the French Hugenots with theirs....
      and into the great melting pot of the Americas came the Chinese, Scots, Irish, etc... all with other vocabularies for the same things...
      and the dominant names became the norm...
      the last word of that line reminds me I have some woodwork to do!!

  4. I suspect the Amboise paella stall is the same as the one that comes to Loches. Always looks so inviting and delicious, but I have never succumbed. Getting warm rice home before eating it probably isn't good for the health.

    Shrimp for me are tiny -- no more than 2cm long. Everything else is a prawn, except Dublin Bay prawns, which I would tend to call langoustines. Then you get Moreton Bay bugs, which are more like proto-lobsters. Crevettes=prawns for me.

    1. Susan - Is that seller out just during the "season" (perhaps the warmer months?) or also during the fall? I have a friend who will be studying French in Tours during October and he will be taking short trips all around there during that time and I'm sure he would be interested in the Paella.

    2. Mary, I know the paella vendor used to be at the Amboise market year-round, but I haven't been over there in a while and things may have changed. Tell your friend that the Sunday morning market in Amboise is worth a visit, paella vendor or not.

    3. Thanks so much, Ken! He will be in full immersion for a 4-week course. I will pass on your information. Me -- I LOVE PAELLA and hope some of these other bloggers who haven't tried it will give it a whirl!!! Yours looks DEELICIOUS!

      Mary in Oregon

  5. Hi Susan, the Wikipedia article for Prawn is interesting. It says, among other things, that the term prawn is used more extensively in the U.K., which is just the opposite from the situation in the U.S. One famous oxymoron in American English is the appellation "jumbo shrimp" (alongside "military intelligence").

    Oh, and as for "chicken-fried steak" — the hyphen is important. It's steak fried using the chicken-frying technique (breading and/or battering). Chicken-fried steak is a little like escalope de veau (ou de dinde) à la milanaise in French cooking.

  6. Ken, I miss those little Bay Shrimp we used
    to get in California. So sweet and no cleaning
    needed. Great for shrimp salad, curry, etc.

  7. Sheila, I miss the North Carolina shrimp (brown shrimp is the variety, I'm sure). They are so much better than the tiger shrimp (prawns) I get here, which are farmed in SE Asia and shipped here frozen.

  8. I've never had Paella-- it certainly does look appetizing the way you've made it here. Yum :)

  9. Hi Judy, I especially remember eating paella in restaurants in Paris back in the 70s and 80s, and this one reminded me of those times and experiences.

  10. Your paella looks scummier than the one from the market ;-) !!!!

    1. ScRummier, not scummier, I hope, Evelyn. What a difference an R makes LOL.

  11. I've only eaten paella once. I think it was in France but I can't really remember. It was not the most memorable dish I've been served. And the ingredients were less than I was expecting. Wait...I think it was in Barcelona.


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