In my twenties, I spent 6 unforgettable years living in London. It won't come as a surprise (especially as I am Australian) that I took advantage of my new base & travelled to over 30 countries, eating & drinking my way through them.
I came away from each trip with a handful of distinct memories, a slide show of moments stored in my mind. These memories are frequently triggered when I'm in the kitchen.
My most recent recollection happened when I was cooking paella. As I sliced & stirred, I could visualise my best friend and I walking along the seaside promenade in Valencia, Spain. I distinctly remember a row of open air restaurants, wafts of steam rising from the oversized paella pans simmering at the entrance of each eatery, tempting passers-by to take a seat & plate. It was quite the spectacle to watch the chefs at work.
The ultimate paella will have a golden crust at its base and on that evening, when I had my first ever mouthful of paella, I remember it having a crust like no other I've had since. The bar was set high for me.
I encourage you to have fun with this. Experiment with the ingredients. If you don't like seafood, just leave it out & cook with the meat & chicken stock only. Some people like to add peas too. Over the years I've settled on a more traditional creation. If you're cooking for more than 4 people, just multiply the ingredients but remember to increase the pan size too, you don't want to over crowd the surface area.
- Arborio or Carnaroli Rice 400g
- Olive Oil 2 TB
- Fish or Chicken Stock 1.5L
- Chorizo 100g, sliced into 1cm thick discs
- Chicken Thighs 150g, cut into bite sized pieces
- King Prawns 8, shell, head & tail removed + de-veined
- Mussels 8, de-bearded & cleaned
- Squid Hood 1, cut one side to open up flat, score diagonally then slice into 3cm wide strips (alternatively you can use a baby octopus)
- Tomatoes 2 large ripe tomatoes roughly chopped
- Shallots 120g peeled & roughly chopped
- Garlic Cloves 3-4, peeled
- Tomato Paste 1TB (optional)
- Red Capsicum ½ sliced into 2cm wide strips
- Saffron Strands ½ tsp
- Smoked Paprika 1TB
- Parsley ½ cup roughly chopped
- Lemon 1, quartered
- Aioli to serve
In a deep saucepan, over a medium heat bring the stock to the boil with the saffron added. Once it's reached boiling point, reduce the heat to a low.
Heat a 35cm paella pan over a medium high heat. Cook the capsicum & sliced chorizo for 1 minute or until the chorizo is golden brown. Remove & place in a bowl leaving the chorizo juices in the pan. Add the chicken to the paella pan & sauté for 3 mins. Remove & add to the bowl with the chorizo & capsicum. Next, sauté the prawns until they turn from opaque to white (add a little olive oil if necessary). Remove from the pan & place in a separate bowl. Turn the heat up to high & add the squid to the pan. Cook the squid until slightly browned/charred then add to the bowl of prawns. Set both bowls aside.
Place the tomatoes, shallots & garlic in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Now over a medium heat, add 2 TBs of olive oil to the paella pan & add the tomato mixture. Stir until most of the moisture has evaporated & the colour has deepened. Add the tomato paste if the sauce needs thickening, then add the paprika and stir together.
Add the rice & stir to coat with the tomato base.
Pour in a half of the stock and stir to mix everything together. Add the chicken, chorizo & capsicum. Pour in the rest of the stock, bring to a simmer then reduce to a low heat. Position the mussels (jointed side down) into the rice. Cover the paella pan with foil and cook for around 30mins. Avoid the temptation to stir (this will help create the crust), instead just move the pan around the element to encourage even distribution of heat. After 30 mins (or until the rice is tender with a slight bite), add the prawns & squid, keep on the heat for another 3-5 mins to warm through. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
To serve, place the paella pan in the centre of the table. Sprinkle the paella with the chopped parsley & lemon quarters. A dollop of aioli is optional.