Friday, October 11, 2019

Chesapeake Paella

Recently, as I get myself back into cooking, I have been wanting to make dishes for which I have a strong affinity.  It may be a particular dish, or, particular ingredients.  The problem is trying to find a recipe from which I could work to bring those beloved components together.  I often spend a lot of time looking at recipes, thinking about the preparation set forth therein, and how I could change it or adapt it to something that I want to make and eat.

That is the process that I used when I came across a recipe for a simple shellfish paella.  I love paella, and, I have made that dish a couple of times in the past.  Those efforts were more "earthy," with the use of turkey, artichokes and green beans.  The thought of cooking a shellfish paella was intriguing to me.  But, the thought did not end there.  I went on to think about how I could change the recipe to incorporate some of the flavors and ingredients that I like.  My thoughts turned to familiar shellfish and seafood, such as crab, clams and oysters, all of which can be found in my beloved Chesapeake Bay.

And, the result of my thinking process is a Chesapeake Paella. There are certain ingredients that play a central role in the culinary history of the Chesapeake Bay: crabs, clams and oysters. That triumvirate of seafood would be the center of my paella.  The Chesapeake Paella was ready, at least in concept.

Making that concept a reality, required the solution to a big problem.  Each of the  main three ingredients is that they have wildly different cooking times.  Unshucked oysters become plump morsels in a couple of minutes.  Clams take several minutes longer, depending upon the size.  Soft shell crabs ordinarily take a few minutes in a saute pan, but they would take much longer in the paella pan.  So, I decided on a particular order and process.  The clams would go in first and be covered to allow the heat to start the cooking process.  When the clams started to open, then I would add the oysters and cover again to cook both at the same time.  While the clams and oysters were cooking, I would prepare the soft shells in a separate skillet, adding them to the paella when the crabs were almost finished.

The end result of this effort was a very good paella that drew its essence from the Chesapeake Bay.  I really liked this paella, but, with practice, I think that this could become a really good paella.

Recipe adapted from Simple Shellfish Paella 
by Andrew Zimmern
Serves 6-8
2 cups of paella rice
2 teaspoons pimenton (hot smoky paprika)
1 minced onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 minced garlic cloves
2 pinches saffron
4 cups seafood stock
2 cups of clam juice
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of white wine
1 cup of clam juice
8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
8 ounces of little neck clams
8 ounces of raw oysters
2 soft shell crabs
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
6 ounces of Spanish chorizo sliced thin

1. Begin the paella.  Place a paella pan (12 inch or 16 inch) over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil.  Immediately add the onion, garlic, saffron, pimenton, rice and stir, cooking until all of the ingredients become toasty and aromatic.  Keep scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid scorching or burning of the ingredients, but still working toward carmelization of the ingredients.  

2.  Add the liquid.  First, add the wine and stir as you go.  Then add the clam stock and stir as you go.  Finish by adding the seafood stock, continuing to stir as the liquids simmer and start to be absorbed into the rice.  Lower the heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.

3.  Add the seafood. Add the crab meat and stir gently so as to not break up the lumps . Add the clams and asparagus, cover for a few minutes, until the clams begin to open. Remove the cover.  Add the oysters and cover again for only a few more minutes, until the oysters begin to firm.  Remove the cover.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.  

4.  Cook the soft shell crabs.  While you are adding the seafood to the paella, heat the 1 tablespoon of white wine and butter in a separate small pan.  Saute the soft shell crabs until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. 

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the rice is just past "toothy" but not mushy, and the remaining liquid is like a sauce, remove the paella from the heat.  Season with salt to taste and sprinkle with the parsley.


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