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Here's the recipe as it appears in Fiesta at Rick's:
Mexican Paella for a Crowd with Shrimp,
Mussels and Chorizo
Paella Mexicana con Camarónes, Mejillones y Chorizo
There are some dishes--it’s good to recognize this--that simply assume the role of honored guest wherever they show up, catching every gaze, captivating imaginations, creating a party out of a mere gathering in a way that’s rare and remarkable. Paella is one of them. True paella, that is, the kind cooked in a pan that’s bigger than a manhole cover, cooked over a wood fire. Paellas like the hundred or so that are toiled over on a late summer afternoon at Mexico’s huge Vendimia Festival--the wine harvest festival in Mexico’s Baja peninsula, just east of Ensanada, south of Tecate. Or paellas like they make on the beach all summer long in Valencia, across the Atlantic.
Paella has long been a special dish in Mexico--it was a Sunday special in many of the family-owned little restaurants that dotted the downtown Mexico City neighborhood I lived in several decades ago. But there, it’s often expressed with classic Mexican ingredients like fresh, tangy chorizo instead of the cured, smoked variety of Spain, like roasted green poblanos instead of red pimientos. But the captivation of its dramatic creation remains intact.
All you need is a huge pan—mine is 32 inches in diameter. And my first glimpse of that pan, in a store in California, was love at first sight. I had to have it, to have it shipped to Chicago, where I stored it in the garage rafters waiting for an occasion worthy of its debut.
Finally, the event: my daughter’s quinceañera, her blow-out fifteenth birthday party, complete with mariachis and a tower of chocolate cupcakes. Though I’d purchased the huge gas burner to fire my paella, a wood fire--the kind I’d seen on the Valencia beach--seemed like it’d be more thrilling. Smoky and rustic, framed by a wrestling match with burning logs. I knew it would feel monumental enough to capture the joy and importance of the day.
Here’s the recipe for the paella I created for my daughter’s party, classic in its approach, thoroughly Mexican in its flavor. You can purchase your own 32-inch paellera (and the burner, if a wood fire isn’t your thing) from Tienda.com and SpanishTable.com; 32 inches is approximately 80 cm. Because it’s live-fire cooking, I have described the state of the fire and the cooking times as clearly as I can. Just know that yours may vary. And should you build an hornillo... to cook your paella, start the fire an hour early to thoroughly warm up the bricks.
Working Ahead: I always do the preparations through Step 1 before the guests arrive; occasionally I do the browning of the chicken (Step 2) as well, either in the paella pan or in skillet(s) on the stove. Once you start Step 3, you’ve triggered the countdown to serving. Recently, at the wedding of one of our chefs, I carried the finished paella to a buffet table, supported it on 5-inch-tall glass bricks and kept it warm for an hour with 8 tea lights underneath.
A note about portions: If paella is the only main dish, this quantity will serve 30 generously. If there is a lot of other food, especially other entrees, I’ve stretched this to be a nice tasting portion for 120 or so.
SERVES 30 GENEROUSLY
- 1 gallon plus 1 quart chicken broth
- 1/4 cup salt (1/3 cup if you’re using low-sodium broth, cup if using unsalted broth), plus more for the chicken
- 3 pounds red-ripe tomatoes
OR 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire roasted), undrained
- 10 large fresh poblano chiles
- 30 chicken thighs (with bones and skin intact)
- 1 1/4 cups good-quality olive oil
- 3 large (about 1 pounds total) white onions, cut into ˙-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
- 3 pounds fresh Mexican chorizo sausage, casing removed
- 2 heads garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 8 pounds medium-grain rice
- 4 pounds medium-large (21 to 25 count per pound) shrimp, peeled (leaving the tail and final joint intact, if you wish) and deveined
- 7 pounds mussels, scrubbed, any “beards” pulled off
- 1 pounds frozen peas, defrosted
- 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2/3 cup silver tequila (optional)
1. The broth and flavorings. In a large (12-quart) stock pot, combine the broth and salt. Measure in 1 gallon plus 2 cups of water, cover the pot and set over medium-low heat.
If using fresh tomatoes, roast them on a rimmed baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and blistered, about 6 minutes per side. Cool, then peel (if you wish). Scoop the tomatoes (fresh roasted or canned roasted) into a blender or food processor, along with all their juices. Puree and set aside.
Roast the poblanos over a gas flame or 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning frequently, until blackened all over, about 5 minutes for the open flame, 10 minutes under the broiler. Collect in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. When cool, rub off the blackened skin and pull out the stem and seed pod, then tear the chiles open, scrape out the seeds and rinse briefly under cold water to remove stray bits of skin and seeds. Cut into -inch pieces.
2. Brown the chicken. If using an hornillo, build a wood fire in it. Sprinkle the skin side of the chicken thighs with salt. Set the paella pan over the wood fire or a paella burner--the burner set on medium-high, the wood fire stoked to a pretty impressive blaze. Give the pan a minute or so to heat up, then add the olive oil. Tip the pan to distribute the oil, then immediately start laying in the chicken, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt. Fry--move the pieces around as necessary to ensure they’re not sticking and that they are cooking evenly--until the skin is deeply golden, about 10 minutes. Turn the chicken thighs over (I like to do this with a pair of tongs), and fry until browned and cooked through (juices from a small cut at the thickest part will run clear), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove to a rimmed baking sheet.
3. Cook the flavorings. Immediately add the onions and chorizo to the pan. Stir (I use a long-handled grilling spatula), breaking up lumps of chorizo, until the chorizo is cooked through and the onion is beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a couple of minutes longer. Add the tomatoes and poblanos, and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the mixture is very thick and the oil has started to separate from it, 7 or 8 minutes.
4. Start cooking the rice. If using wood, make sure your fire is still stoked to burn very hot. Add the rice to the flavorings, stir to combine, and keep stirring for 4 or 5 minutes, until a good portion of the rice has turned from translucent to milky white. Pour in the hot broth mixture—if your temperature is right, the broth should come to a boil in less than a minute. Set a timer for 12 minutes. Stir your paella only once a minute, slowly and thoroughly scraping across the bottom of the pan and moving the rice from edges into the center. At 12 minutes, the rice should have absorbed enough liquid to look like risotto. Check a kernel of rice: it should be getting soft, but still have a tiny bit of chalkiness at the center. If the rice doesn’t look or taste ready, let it cook another minute or two.
5. Add the chicken and shellfish. Working quickly (I usually ask a friend to help), nestle the chicken thighs into the center of the rice, lay the shrimp in a ring around the chicken and arrange the mussels in the rice around the edge of the pan. Cover the pan with two pieces of heavy duty foil (it’s typically 18 inches wide) or with a folded-up tablecloth. Turn the burner to its lowest setting or remove the burning logs from under the paella (but leave the embers). Let stand for 10 minutes to cook the shrimp and mussels and finish cooking the rice.
6. Serve the paella. Uncover the paella and sprinkle with the peas, parsley, and, if you’re using it, the tequila. Using a large serving spoon, gently fluff the mussels and shrimp into the rice mixture. (You can do the same thing with the chicken, but it’s more difficult.) You can breathe a sigh of relief. You’re ready to serve.
Reprinted from Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food, Luscious Libations, Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen copyright © 2010. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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