In Persian rice it’s called Tadiq. In Paella it’s called Socarrat. The crispy, crunchy, golden brown prized bottom of the pot of rice that the table hopes for, and which I finally achieved with dinner with this pan of paella. It was the Pinnacle of Paella with a socarrat we all dug around the pan for.
By now you know I get a bit
focused obsessed on a food or a dish and how I seem to make it over and over until I perfect it get tired of it. And that’s what this most recent paella meal is all about.
I’m not really sure how this gotta-make-paella thing came to be, but in the last month I’ve made it three times.
Paella is a perfect summer company dish. I invited friends over for dinner and while it’s always easy to make a slow cooked pot of comfort food for company, with temperatures hovering at the 100˚ mark, a steaming pot of boeuf bourguignon or an impressive lamb tagine is not something that interests me in this overwhelming heat. The shellfish and bright, sunny, yellow-orange color of paella with clams and mussels peeking out on top, convinced me that this was the dish to make for dinner guests last night.
I think it’s more a craving for mollusks and saffron that has captured my attention this summer, but my obsession has resulted in something that made us all smile go in for more at dinner the other night night. And my smile was a smug one. Why? Because I have a friend who has really gotten into cooking in the past few years and we spend a lot of time talking food, recipes and technique and paella is one culinary treasure he tells me HAS to be made in a special pan. While he is an Alton Brown fan and agrees with the “no uni-tasker” kitchen philosophy, my recent paella-making craze using common kitchen pans seems to have raised a questioning eyebrow which I did have coming to me since I’ve never reached the pinnacle of paella making — the socarrat. We sometimes cook together, but we’re very different cooks.
I tend to “wing it,” often using a recipe as a suggestion rather than as a rule. It’s my “organic nature.” He is of the more precise, planned, well thought through lifestyle, while I like to see what happens if I add just a pinch of this, or a tablespoon of that and play with the method and technique a bit. So far I’ve never had to miss a meal because I’ve strayed too far from the original.
Such is the case with this paella recipe and method. I know a sofrito is essential to this dish and that it takes time, just as I know there are pans out there that are very affordable and are manufactured simply for paella-making, but I decided to find a way to make paella with that fabulous socarrat without adding another pan to my kitchen “warehouse.” I think Alton would be proud of me — as will my friend when I get him over here to try my Enameled Cast Iron Pan Paella.
I’ve made paella in the past. As a matter of fact, I taught a paella class at Williams-Sonoma a couple of years ago, but I have never achieved the pinnacle of paella making — the socarrat, so part of this paella obsession is about competition. I’ve been competing with myself to make a pan of saffron rice, shellfish, sausage and chicken that would not only knock my socks off as well as impress my friends, but would result in the much sought after crunchy bottom-of-the-pan treat.
The first pan I used was a Mauviel Tarte Tatin pan I picked up at work with my employee discount and used to make the sister dish of paella last year — Fideuà. The gleaming copper exterior drew me in, but the flared sides and small size shouted Paella to me. I’ve made a couple of rounds of Tarte Tatin in this pan, but paella has been the winner. I made a pot of paella a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t come away from it with either the socarrat or photos worth saving.
The next paella episode was in a small everyday All Clad Copper core braiser. Again, it was a good dinner, but no socarrat, the incredibly tender and juicy mussels were worth the effort though.
But on the weekend, with friends coming for dinner, I knew I needed a larger vessel to create a paella good enough for guests so I went to the laundry closet, reached up high to the top of the storage cabinet and pulled down my enamel coated, cast iron Le Creuset Braiser. I had a feeling the even cooking and enamel finish would result in crunchy socarrat goodness and what a great decision this was!
Look at that socarrat! It’s golden brown and crunchy with the flavors of seafood and saffron and spicy sausage and chicken. The rice is just tender with a bit of resistance on your teeth when you take a bite. Success can be achieved in a pan other than a paella pan and to satisfy my curiosity I’m going to have to try it again in this pan. I need to prove to myself that it was not a fluke. I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, no matter what pans you have, give this recipe a try. Avoid non stick or anything deeper than a skillet. If you use non stick or a pan that’s too deep, the results will be soggy, mushy rice with meats and shellfish. Yuck!
Don’t be afraid of this lengthy list of ingredients and involved recipe. I’ve given you the ingredients and steps I used, but this is a very versatile dish and in Spain, Paella is a regional dish. It can be made with nothing but seafood or vegetables or as I’ve done here, a little bit of everything — shellfish, sausage, and chicken. You can put green beans or artichokes or even pieces of corn on the cob in the pan. Short grain rice and saffron are two ingredients you can’t leave out and roasted red peppers would be missed in any paella I was eating. Set aside time and have fun with it! I’ve made it after work, but then again, I’m a bit of an obsessed kitchen fanatic.
- 1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
- 2 teaspoons Sweet Paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground Pepper
- 1 15 ounce can whole Plum Tomatoes (without herbs or seasoning), drained
- 4 boneless, skinless Chicken thighs, cleaned and patted dry
- 1 large link of Chorizo, cut into 1/2 – 3/4 inch slices (if you can’t find Chorizo, hot Italian Sausage is a good substitute)
- 3 teaspoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
- Cooking Oil spray
- 1 sweet Onion, diced
- 4 cloves Garlic, crushed
- 1/3 cup Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
- 3 cups Bomba or Arborio (short grain) Rice
- 6 cups warm Water
- 1 teaspoon Saffron Threads
- 1 cup hot water or seafood stock
- 1 dozen small Mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
- 1 dozen Littleneck Clams, scrubbed
- 4 pieces small Squid Heads, cleaned (if you like the tentacles, feel free to use them)
- 8 very large Shrimp, peeled and deveined (shell on or not)
- 1/2 cup sweet Baby Peas
- 1 large Lemon
- In a bowl, add both Paprikas, Oregano, Salt and Pepper, mix to combine
- Add cleaned and dried chicken and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour
- In a small bowl add hot water and saffron threads
- Stir and let steep until later
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet, add Onion, Garlic and Parsley
- Continue cooking until the vegetables are barely recognizable — this is a sofrito
- Crush tomatoes with your fingers and add to the sofrito
- Cook until a thick pulp remains — take care to stir to risk burning
- Add 1 teaspoons oil and stir until cooked through — set aside
- Meanwhile, heat a large enameled cast iron skillet or any other heavy bottom pan over medium high heat and spray with cooking oil
- Add sausage slices and cook on all sides until browned, but not cooked through
- Remove to a plate
- Add chicken to the pan and cook until browned
- Turn to brown on the other side
- When browned on both sides, remove to a plate
- While the chicken is cooking, blacken the pepper over an open flame or under the broiler, turning to ensure all sides are blackened
- When thoroughly black on all sides, remove to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam or place in a paper bag and close
- Remove the pepper from the bag and peel the skin off, slice into thin strips and reserve — resist the urge to run under water to get all of the charred skin off — you want some of it — it adds a rustic, smoky flavor
- Spray the pan again and add the sofrito and stir in the rice — coat each grain with sofrito, ensuring you don’t miss a grain of rice for maximum flavor
- Cook until for 2 minutes
- And add salt and pepper
- Pour in the 6 cups of water and 1 cup of saffron water
- Stir to combine and then let simmer for 10 minutes shaking the pan from time to time
- The key is to resist stirring the rice, especially from the bottom — you want the rice to settle on the bottom and to avoid making risotto so that the bottom will eventually become the socarrat
- The rice will begin to absorb the liquid and will puff up, almost appearing to rise to the top — this is what you want
- After 10 minutes, add the sausage and chicken to the pan, tucking it into the rice
- Place the Clams, Mussels and Shrimp in the pan, tucking the mussels and clams in, hinged side down — taking care not to bury the shells or they won’t open
- Add squid and peas randomly around the pan, cover and cook for 10 – 15 more minutes
- There should be almost no liquid left and the rice at the bottom of the pan should start crackling
- When this happens, remove the cover and check to ensure the clams and mussels have opened — if they have opened, remove the lid
- Listen for crackling in the pan — this will mean a socarrat is beginning to develop
- When you’ve checked and find there is either a layer of crispy rice on the sides and bottom of the pan you are done
- If you don’t achieve the socarrat, be sure your rice isn’t becoming over cooked and mushy. It’s time to serve the dish before that happens.
- It’s a bit of a guessing game, but allow it to crackle for a few minutes and if you see smoke or smell burning, take it off immediately — remember, cast iron pots and pans are great cooking vessels because they are slow to heat, slow to cool and cook evenly — this means that it takes time to cool down even after you’ve taken it off the stove — it will continue cooking
- Serve directly from the pan, scooping down to the bottom where you’ll probably have a wonderful socarrat to fight over
- Serve with lemon wedges
This special one dish meal is a splurge at 11 Weight Watchers Points Plus or 443.6 calories. Save it for weekend dinner and it will delight your guests with presentation and flavor.