I realized that I have not been on any adventurous cooking experiments for quite awhile now. So, last night I went on Youtube to get some inspiration. I was thinking, I have done French (Croque Monsieur), I have done English (Shepherd’s Pie, Yorkshire Pudding), I have done Italian (Carbonara), I have even done Polish (Pierogi), although the last one was me watching someone else do it.
I think it is time I go Spanish, don’t you think?
With that in mind, I began to search for Spanish dish recipes. I saw many videos. And then I saw this dork making a fool of himself in a restaurant in Valencia.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWNdL9embj4]
Hmm, I don’t really like that guy, but I kind of like the idea of a paella. The longer it sits, the better it gets? Then I can cook a ton of it and have it for a few days! So I focused on searching for paella recipes. Then I found a version with Jamie Oliver in it.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_li_hbMTilI]
That was awesome! One big pan of paella for the whole village! Seems like this is a national dish level of food. Yes! I’m doing it!
But that video isn’t very good as far as recipe goes, so I searched for more. I finally settled on this one:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-eDbjeTA3E]
I wanted to be sure, so I went searching for more information on what paella actually is. Apparently, there are a few versions of paella. Authentic Valencian paella uses chicken and rabbit meat, while Catalan paella uses seafood like squid and prawns and fish. Basically anything is fine, but you must use paprika and saffron as seasoning. And then you just cook the rice and ingredients in chicken stock until the rice is cooked. Seems easy.
And by the way, paella is pronounced as pa-e-ya.
It seems that in Spanish, L is pronounced as I. Marta: it is not that the L is pronounced I, it’s just that two L together are pronounced like the Y in Yes.
Armed with my new found knowledge, I went shopping for ingredients. Just as well I was going to Gurney Plaza for an appointment, so I did my shopping in Cold Storage where most imported stuff can be found.
I was at the herbs and spices section, scanning the columns for saffron. I couldn’t find it. I was so focused on the bottles of spices that I did not notice a toddler running towards me, and crashed into my cart. Two days ago it was animals, now a human decided to also crash into me!
I think he is Spanish, because I heard his mom screamed “Dios mio (My God)!” while I was trying to help the kid up. Thankfully he was unhurt and did not even cry. We ended up apologizing to each other, me and the mom. Turns out I was right about the Spanish part. The mom’s name is Nura and she is from Gandia, a small town close to Valencia. She is in Penang for a 3 years work assignment and is halfway through it.
A Valencian! Perfect timing! It appears that my life is so full of coincidences! Maybe I could ask her, she might cook paella a lot and knows where those elusive saffron are!
Me: Have you ever bought saffron from here? I’m trying to find it but cannot see it.
Nura: I don’t think they have here. I shop here for almost 1 year and have never seen it. What do you want saffron for?
Me: Actually, I’m going to try to cook paella. It seems that saffron is important for this dish.
Nura: Oh! Paella! That’s food from my country! My mama makes the best paella!
Then she went and grabbed a bottle of Moroccan seasoning and shoved it to me and said: “You can use turmeric, in my hometown, we call turmeric as poor people’s saffron. But you should use this, this is good, no need saffron and paprika! And you should buy Chorizo in the deli, it is Spanish sausage, very delicious!”
Before we parted ways, she gave me more tips:
- Use tomato puree instead of fresh tomato because it is more flavorful.
- It is okay to use white jasmine rice, but they are very starchy, so we need to rinse it at least 5 times to remove most of the starch before cooking.
- Use fish stock instead of chicken stock, she found an amazing ikan bilis cubes in Malaysia that she thinks is perfect.
Paella cooking tips from a Valencian mother. Awesome! I think I can really make it now!
With my ingredients in tow, time to go home and cook away!
I settled on chicken, fish, shrimps, frozen peas, and (of course) Chorizo sausage as my paella ingredients.
Look at the Chorizo, I think they looked absolutely amazing on the inside! This is the first time I buy gourmet sausages. Previously the only sausages I ever bought were those processed sausages. I wonder how they make these sausages..
Anyway, here’s the recipe for my Lazy Man’s Paella..
- 2 cups of jasmine rice (because that’s rice that I have)
- 1 dory fish fillet
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 Chorizo sausage
- 2 cups of frozen peas
- 200g peeled shrimps
- 1 big onion, 3 cloves of garlic
- half tin of tomato puree
- ikan bilis (anchovies) stock – 1 cube of stock in 1.5 liter of water
- Moroccan seasoning powder mix
As I am sitting here writing this now, I think Morrocan seasoning makes sense. You see, Spain was once colonized by the Moorish people from North Africa, mainly Morocco. It was the Moroccans who introduced spices to Spaniards and Spanish cuisines, so Moroccan spices on Spanish dish actually makes perfect sense.
- Boil 1.5 liters of water with the ikan bilis cube to make fish stock.
- Rinse 2 cups of rice for 5 times. If the water is clear then we are clear, otherwise maybe rinse for a couple more times.
- Wash and cut chicken, fish and Chorizo to pieces.
- Wash shrimps and frozen peas.
- Finely chop onion and garlic.
- Heat a big pan with some olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic first, until fragrant.
- Add chicken into the pan and fry until the chicken pieces are slightly browned.
- Add Chorizo, fish and peas into the pan. Stir fry for 2 minutes.
- Add rice into the pan. Stir and mix well.
- Add tomato puree and 3 tablespoons of Moroccan seasoning into the pan. Stir and mix well. Flatten the rice and stuff with spatula.
- Pour ikan bilis stock into the pan. Make sure the stock covers everything and is 1 inch higher than the ingredients in the pan.
- Bring the stock to boil, then set to low heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. DO NOT close the lid, and DO NOT stir the rice.
- Add shrimps into the pan, and continue to cook on low heat until the water is gone. Another way to measure is by smell, when there is a slight burnt smell it means it is done.
- Take the pan off the heat, cover the pan and let it sit on a piece of towel for at least 30 minutes. This will give the rice enough time to absorb all the lovely juices still remaining in the pan.
- Serve with a wedge of lemon.
I think my paella looks quite like the real thing when compared to the ones I saw in the videos. The thing is though, I’m not gonna find out if it tastes like the real deal or not, will I? This is the problem with cooking exotic food that you have never eaten before, you won’t know whether it is a success or failure in terms of authenticity.
I suppose I have to make sure I travel to Spain in the future to find out.
Even though the step by step seem complicated, it is actually not. I actually had quite an easy time cooking this from start to end. There might be many different ingredients, but they are mostly just cooking in the pan.
And you see the pan is full? There’s enough for 4 portions there, and by my estimation, the ingredients cost are about RM 40. RM 10 for a portion of European exotic dish, that is pretty cheap, isn’t it?
Anyway, regardless of whether my paella tastes authentically Spanish or not, it is bloody delicious! I love it! I would have no qualms cooking this again.