Apparently, you’re not supposed to call it paella unless it contains the very specific list of ingredients which have been painstakingly developed over generations by the good people of Valencia, Spain, and which mark this as one of those iconic dishes that forever defines a particular region of the world, and the world-class local components that cannot be found anywhere else. And make no mistake – eating my way around Spain remains on my bucket list, and you can bet I’ll be eating paella once I reach Valencia.
But in the meantime, the description of this dish – and the relatively unusual way of cooking the rice in it, is so tantalizingly delicious that I think we can all be forgiven for wanting to replicate a good paella – even if it means having to replace some of the key ingredients with something else in our pantries. The fact that it can be effortlessly made gluten-free is also a huge bonus, not to mention the fact that there’s only one pan to clean up after dinner.
This version is redolent with three kinds of protein – all of which you could swap out with something else – and a range of vegetables, also replaceable with others. Here’s a list of ingredients (with possible swap-outs in parenthesis besides). Don’t let the long list scare you – putting this all together in one pan is a delightfully absorbing task, and the end result is really something special and unusual for dinner.
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, diced (or a thick handful of chives, diced very small)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 4 chorizo sausages (or smokies, or cheddar smokies, or similar smoked sausage, or tofu – flavored or not)
- 2 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks (you could also use 3-4 boneless thighs)
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes (leave this out, if you don’t like it spicy)
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp turmeric (ideally, you want saffron to make it gloriously golden, but if you can’t find it, use turmeric)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1.5 cups short-grain rice (arborio, if you want to spend more – but the short-grain works just as well)
- 900 ml chicken, mushroom, or vegetable stock (or use Campbell’s gluten free Pho broth, also available in those 900 ml containers)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Up to 1/2 bottle white wine
- 1 cup frozen peas (or other fresh or frozen vegetables, diced)
- 15-20 cooked shrimp or 10-12 big cooked prawns (crab or scallops or other fish pieces work here as well)
- Over medium heat, heat olive oil in the largest frying pan you have, or alternatively, go find a paella pan at a specialty store. It’s worth it – I can safely bet you’ll be making various versions of this more than once).
- Stir in diced onions, peppers, and garlic. Sautee gently for about five minutes, then add sausage. Once the sausage starts to render out some of its fat, stir in all the spices, salt and pepper.
- Add the chicken pieces and sautee for about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice. Stir constantly for a couple of minutes, so that all the rice is coated with the spice and onion mixture.
- Add the broth. Stir to blend and dilute the spices.
- Add about 1 cup of white wine, and the tomato paste. Stir to blend the tomato paste in well.
- Reduce heat to a simmer. Add the remaining vegetables, and keep stirring every couple of minutes.
- The rice will take about 15-18 minutes to cook, and it will absorb a considerable amount of liquid. Towards the end of the cooking time, drop in the frozen cooked shrimp. This will give it time to thaw and become a nice part of the dish without getting rubbery and overdone.
- Keep tasting the mixture, to determine how firm the rice grains are. If there is any crunch, and the mixture is starting to thicken up, add white wine a half a cup at a time, letting the rice absorb it, until the rice is done, al dente. You don’t want it crunchy, but you also don’t want mush, so don’t be afraid to try it every couple of minutes. Salt to taste.
Once the rice is cooked, serve up your paella. This recipe will very comfortably feed four. You can easily make the recipe larger, but the trick would be to have a pan large enough.
Enjoy with a nice white wine of your choice, if you have any left.