Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spanish Night

As noted in my post of May 20, we recently spent a weekend in Madison, Wisconsin with friends, and did some cooking and relaxing together.

I made Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'Atar and Lemon using their wonderful paella pan. I immediately developed a case of pan envy, and upon returning to New York, ordered my very own, a genuine classic carbon steel one from a maker in Valencia, the home of paella. By the way, "paella pan" is technically redundant, since paella refers to the pan as well as the dish, but I'll go with paella pan to avoid confusion.

Last night I broke it in, and served a completely Spanish meal for some good friends who are willing to share my experiments in the kitchen.

So here's my virgin pan, with four tablespoons of olive oil, just waiting to get to work.

Paella pan waiting to fulfill its destiny
I chose to do a classic chicken paella, following the recipe that accompanied the pan, except that I added a little (1/4 lb) chopped fresh chorizo to the grated onions and tomatoes that formed the soffrito, the flavor base for any paella and many other Spanish dishes. First the chicken.

Browning chicken for paella
After that's done, I sauteed slices of fresh artichoke hearts and a red bell pepper, then put them aside while I made the aforementioned soffrito. Finally the rice is added, together with chicken broth that was flavored with some excellent precious saffron that I bought over the Internet, first toasted and then infused in a bit of broth. The chicken and vegetables are placed on top, arrayed as attractively as possible. For about eight minutes, the rice is cooked at a fast boil, until the broth is reduced to the level of the rice.

Boiling the rice
Then the dish is brought to a low simmer for the final cooking.

Simmering the rice, nearly done
The finished paella (photo courtesy of Miyako Yoshinaga)
To stay on the evening's theme, I started with a platter of great Spanish products: Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and Marcona almonds, accompanied by some lightly cured (but not Spanish) green olives.

Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, Marcona almonds
Next, a simple salad of orange slices atop a bed of spinach with seasoned hazelnut oil and chopped hazelnuts.

Orange slices and spinach with hazelnut oil and hazelnuts
Finally, after the paella, a walnut cake with Spanish brandy, using the recipe from Claudia Roden's excellent The Food of Spain. A really interesting torte, with complex walnut notes beautifully offset by the brandy. A wet, dense cake -- it doesn't rise because no leavening is used, not even whipped egg whites -- so I served it with a dollop of crème fraîche on top.

Walnut cake with Spanish brandy
Inspired by the humble paella pan, this was a pretty authentic and really fun dinner. Viva España!

Bobby Jay

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