Paella started its renowned reputation in the Valencia region of Spain as an immensely flavorful rice dish cooked in a large shallow round pan. Spanish cuisine is one I have very little experience with (well, besides enjoying eating it!), and I was thrilled when this month’s host, Olga, chose paella for the Daring Cooks Challenge #4. The original dish here was designed by José Andrés and titled creamy rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes, from his TV show Made in Spain. I used mussels instead of cuttlefish though, because they are cheap and we are poor grad students.
There were three different components to this dish – the sofregit, allioli, and the paella itself.
The sofregit is a slow cooked Spanish sauce made of tomatoes, garlic, onions, mushrooms and bell pepper. I decided to pulse it in a food processor until it became a marinara-like consistency. I had lots leftover, and used it as a great pasta sauce later in the week!
Some of the sofregit went into the paella, and the rest was served on the side. For the paella, I sauteed short grain brown rice (which meant it had to cook longer, but that’s ok), artichoke hearts, garlic and mushrooms, then deglazed with a little white wine, and cooked the entire mixture in fish stock and wine. I also added in a full teaspoon of saffron threads (one of our honeymoon purchases last year) which contributed a deep earthy flavor to this rustic dish. I don’t own a paella pan, however, so I used one of my large saute pots, which worked really well. You really just need a pan with a large surface area here and it will work fine. Right at the end I added in the mussels and covered it for about 5 minutes, which steamed them well and they opened up beautifully.
That little bowl of yellow mayonanise-like substance? That’s the allioli (also written as “aioli”, but “allioli” is the Catalan spelling). From now on, I’m calling it the “wasabi of the Mediterranean“. I’d never tasted it or made it before, but WOW does it pack a punch! You certainly don’t need much of this to add a lot of flavor to your dish! I have no mortar and pestle, so I used a coffee grinder to grind the garlic into a paste, transferred it to a bowl, and added in salt and lemon juice. I gradually added in olive oil, about 10 mL (sorry I think in metric, I am a chemist after all) to my 4 cloves of mashed up garlic. At the time I had no idea if this was enough or not, but it looked like a good consistency and so I decided to stop it there before I added too much. It turns out that you really need like an entire cup of olive oil, and you really are supposed to be creating an emulsion. Next time I think I will add the olive oil faster as drop by drop for an entire cup would be about 5,000 drops!
To plate, I started with the sofregit, then added the paella/mussels and topped with a small amount of allioli.
As you can see, we ate it all up!!