With the uncertainty surrounding when the next trip to the grocery store might be, people have gotten creative with what’s already found in their pantry. Experimenting in the kitchen can be a fun way to engage the family and use up the about-to-expire cans of beans, that bag of rice, and those frozen vegetables that you have no idea what to do with.
Enter Paella Valenciana. Staunch adherents to the Valencian traditional way of preparing paella may not understand the origins of the dish fully. It was most certainly not a carefully curated, epicurean masterpiece – it was survival food. Anyone who claims otherwise has never spent time in one of the small, farming Valencian villages. It began with farmers and field hands throwing together what was readily available over an open flame while they were out in the field working. Rabbit, peas, olives and runner beans were the staples and were added to a bag of local “arroz redonda” rice. Valencia, Spain, is predominately a farming region with a mild climate but it also stretches to the ocean and has a robust seafood culture, not too unlike Wrightsville Beach. And, as the staple dish gained popularity in the region, seafood was added for another variance – Paella de Mariscos.
Making dishes in the style of Paella de Mariscos or Paella Valenciana can be entertaining and does not have to be a serious culinary undertaking. Rally the kids, dig out that forgotten paella pan you got for your wedding, grab what you already have in the pantry, modify the recipe below however you want and get cooking over the grill. If you don’t have a paella pan, a large, well-seasoned cast iron would be the only alternative for the desired outcome. Just make sure that rice gets crispy!
1 lb fresh flounder or chicken thighs (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 lb fresh shrimp (in shells)
1 lb fresh oysters, shucked or 12 mussels and/or clams, cleaned and any open or damaged shells discarded
3 cups Carolina Gold rice (use any kind you have)
8 cups fish or chicken stock
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup green string beans, field peas or sugar snaps (use canned or frozen if you don’t have fresh), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp saffron
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
8 scallions, chopped
6-8 lemon wedges
Get your (preferably) charcoal grill very hot or set your gas grill to 500 degrees. Meanwhile, add your stock to a pot with the saffron and get it to a light simmer. Place your pan over the grill once hot, add the olive oil, fish or chicken and salt. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes depending on if it’s fish or chicken, then add pepper, onion and green string beans, stirring constantly until softened. Add the garlic and stir before adding the paprika. Stir again and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes to sear the rice so it’s slightly crisp. Pour over the hot stock and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure all the caramelization is incorporated into the stock. Don’t stir past this point. Lower the heat, continue to simmer until rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to continue cooking the rice (about 10 min.). Add extra water if necessary. Arrange shrimp, oysters, clams and mussels over rice, placing edges of mussel and clam shells so they open facing up. Cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until rice is done and you can hear the rice frying on the bottom of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and cover with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. Garnish with scallions and lemon wedges.
For a vegetarian twist use vegetable stock, canned beans, portabella or shitake mushrooms and heart of palms instead of the fish/chicken stock and seafood.