TGIFood

COOK OUT: Kenton-on-Sea Paella

Clearly tired of the repeated and long-winded stories of my “Spanish Paella”, my family and friends decided to get me a serious paella pan for Christmas and insist that I break it in with a proper, Kenton-style paella on the deck of our last evening of holiday. (Very little Spanish but lots of good old Eastern Cape style in it.)

I got a lovely paella pan for Christmas after returning from a working trip to Spain and Italy, where I was inspired to prepare a traditional Catalonian Paella in the Hills of the Xalon valley one splendid evening.

Clearly tired of the repeated and long-winded stories of my “Spanish Paella”, my family and friends decided to get me a serious paella pan for Christmas and insist that I break it in with a proper, Kenton-style paella on the deck of our last evening of holiday. (Very little Spanish but lots of good old Eastern Cape style in it.)

I decided to turn it into an expedition for all and sent the crew on a treasure hunt for the best and freshest ingredients we could find. Fresh mussels were collected at the low tide, fish were caught, calamari was cleaned and prawns were deveined.

It was (I was told) a fitting and slightly decadent tribute to a great seaside holiday. Just make sure you have plenty of friends and family to help eat it.

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients

400g calamari rings

400g prawns, deveined

400G fresh firm white fish fillets (cut into 3x3cm cubes)

250g or 15-20 fresh, shell-on mussels (if you can’t get fresh ones, find the best you can at the deli)

150g Chorizo sausage

400g deboned chicken thighs (cut into pieces – 3x3cm and rubbed with paprika)

200g diced bacon (optional)

2 x chopped red onion

1 x each – red, yellow & green pepper, cut into julienne strips

1 x punnet sugar snap peas

Large handful flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped

1 litre chicken stock

300ml good dry white wine or rosé

1 Tbs sweet, smoked paprika (use this to coat the chicken pieces)

500g Risotto or Aborio rice, uncooked

2 x large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 large sprig fresh thyme

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

A pinch of saffron (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

A good glug or 3 of olive oil

Lemon wedges

Method

Add the saffron and wine to the warm stock and stir. Set aside.

Place the paella pan over direct heat (medium) and add the olive oil, toss in the Chorizo and bacon, fry until crisp and remove, next add the chicken and brown nicely, remove and set aside.

Add the prawns and sear until they are just pink and nicely coloured (only about 3 mins) – remove and set aside. Now do the same with the calamari.

The onions and garlic, sauté until soft, then add the thyme, tomatoes and peppers and another glug of olive oil, stir for 3 minutes. You now have a nice Sofrito (an aromatic base for your rice).

Sprinkle the rice gently over the Sofrito and stir constantly so the rice can start absorbing all that flavour, then start adding the stock mix slowly so the rice can absorb it, stirring regularly.

Once about half the stock has been absorbed, stir in the chicken, Chorizo and bacon.

Slowly stir in the rest of the stock until it is 95% absorbed. (Do not cover at all during this stage, just stir gently and allow the flavours to develop and the rice to absorb the stock.)

Once the stock is mostly absorbed, add the fish and sugar snap peas and stir in gently, taking care not to break the fish up, then layer the calamari, prawns and mussels over the top and cover with foil or a lid and turn up the heat for about 5 mins, until you smell the rice starting to toast.

It is very important that the rice toasts at the bottom. This crispy, umami, semi-burned base is called the “socarrat” and it is the key to a great paella.

Once the socarrat is crispy, remove from the heat and cover the paella with a towel and allow to rest for 5 to 10 mins.

Your paella should now be ready. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and add the lemon wedges, serve with some buttery avos, a leafy salad, good friends and a crisp Chenin Blanc.

Tips

  • Try to find a non-Teflon coated pan. Non-stick pans battle to make the socarrat and this produces a bland paella. A nice thin-based broad steel pan is always better than a thick, deep pan – you want to maximise the rice’s exposure to the pan.

  • The rice should be al dente, not mushy — break apart a grain and you’ll see a pin-size white dot in the centre.

  • To test the soccarat, listen carefully for a slight popping sound and use your nose to smell for the toasty smells. Once you get that, slip a spoon into the rice and try to slide it along the bottom of the pan. If you get a gritty resistance, you have your soccarat. Remove it from the heat immediately and allow it to rest.

  • The resting period is very important. Once the rice has absorbed the stock, the soccarat is achieved and the heat is removed, it needs time to rest so the rice can rest and the flavours can develop – don’t ruin a great effort by rushing this stage.

  • The stock: Add the stock gently but constantly so that it bubbles briskly at first, then settles down to a nice simmer between the rice, not too much heat, just a nice constant medium temperature to keep it simmering and the rice absorbing all those wonderful flavours.

  • Heat source: Try to have a good and adjustable heat source, like a gas burner or wood fire, that can accommodate the whole pan. This way you can precisely control your temps and get a good even distribution of heat with no dead spots. DM

Gordon Wright is a chef and author of two best-selling cookbooks, Veld to Fork and Karoo food (Penguin)

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