If you’ve never had paella before, you’re probably thinking what’s the big deal, its just another rice dish (or maybe that was just me). Well firstly, rice is awesome. Secondly, paella, like risotto is in a league all its own in the rice-world. This Spanish dish is not just “stuff” mixed in with rice–this is a hearty, vibrant class of dishes very open to experimentation whether it be vegetables, seafood, or meat–and technique is important. Like risotto, while the mix-ins and other flavors are important, the texture and method of cooking the rice itself is also a big part of what makes it so unique. In this particular rendition, the focus is red peppers, lamb, and chickpeas.
This paella was really tasty–very fresh, slightly sweet, and enticingly aromatic (yay for saffron). Plus, I love the mix of colors and how it looks great in that big paella pan (and after all, this is also a big part of serving paella)! Furthermore, I am always a sucker for the flavor of the lamb as is, but it provided a fantastic counter-point to the sweetness of the peppers and the distinct chickpea flavor (which was surprisingly present). All in all, I was smitten with how these flavors played together, and the rice itself was fun to eat (like risotto)–both creamy and al dente at the same time.
I was inspired to make paella after seeing a beauty of a dish, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. This particular recipe came from Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain, one of two items I won via a giveaway hosted by one of my favorite blogs, The Perfect Pantry (courtesy of La Tienda). The other item: the paella pan itself! If you don’t have one of your own, no worries–you can still get away without one (it just makes life easier if you’re making paella). The only difficulty I had: fitting it over multiple burners on the stove!
- 1 1/3 cups canned chickpeas (1 can)
- 6.5 cups chicken stock
- 12 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot
- 4 sprigs parsely
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp crumbled saffron thread
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 8 Tbsp olive oil
- ~2-3 lbs leg of lamb (mine had bone-in)
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 shallot
- 1 tomato
- 2 Tbsp cognac
- 3 cups short grain rice (valencia or arborio)
- 1 pimiento (or some other sweet small pepper)
- 1 or 2 tomatoes
Begin by admiring your paella pan. That sucker is big.
The first step for the paella: make a very flavorful stock since this is what the rice will absorb (and make the backbone of your flavor). I started from canned chickpeas. Begin by reserving 1/3 of them whole (for later), and then mash up the rest of them in a pot along with the liquid in the can. Coarsely chop up the stock herbs and vegetables, throwing them in the pot along with everything else short of the wine. Since my lamb also had the bone in, I figured I’d go for extra flavor points and I threw that into the pot as well (if you don’t have any, don’t worry). Raise this up to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
When time is up, strain out the solids (discard them) and measure 5.5 cups of the liquid for this recipe. Save any extra for another day (yes, its not your typical stock to keep in the freezer, but you’ll find a use for it, trust me). Finally add the wine to top this off to 6 cups of liquid. This delicious nectar will be the broth for your paella.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Add oil to the hot pan. Cube the lamb and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on all sides for roughly 3 minutes per side. Be mindful of the heat sources on your pan if your playing musical chairs with the stovetop burners like I was. Set the lamb aside.
Sauté the minced shallot and finely chopped red peppers over medium high heat until softened, roughly 8-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped tomato and cognac, cooking away the liquid.
Once sufficiently cooked, add the rice and toss it in the pan to coat it in the vegetables and oil. Add the hot broth and raise to a boil. Add the whole chickpeas you saved earlier into the pan, adjusting the salt as necessary. Continue to boil for about 2 minutes before returning the lamb to the pan, at which point, you should boil for another 3 minutes or so. You don’t want the rice drowning in a soupy mess, but you do want there to be enough liquid for it to finish cooking. When it looks like you’ve reached this point, its time to decorate the paella pan with your garnishes (quickly).
Spread the 1/4 inch slices of tomato around the pan as well as the pimiento (or whatever other sweet pepper you’ve opted for), chopped in thin strips however you think it looks attractive. Sprinkle on some parsley and/or rosemary and transfer this to the oven for about 15 minutes. The rice should be close to al dente. Remove it from the oven, cover with foil, and let it sit for another 5-10 minutes to finish steaming. Now gather round and dig in–enjoy!