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The French can be smug about their bouillabaisse, the Italian's have a passion for spaghetti Bolognese and the English serve jolly good fish and chips. In Spain, the national favorite is paella (py-Ay-yuh), a hearty peasant dish based on rice and saffron. A natural for entertaining, paella combines ingredients in a single pan to create a striking dish that will easily please a crowd.
Paella originated in Valencia, where traditionalists still prepare an authentic version with snails, eels and green beans cooked in a shallow double-handled pan over an open wood fire. Farther south, residents of Granada prefer a meat paella chunky with pork, veal and spicy sausage and garnished with artichoke hearts. The Catalans in the northeast, especially those living in the seaside capital of Barcelona, favor paella marinera--a colorful seafood paella with langostas (Mediterranean spiny lobsters), shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and calamares (squid). This paella borrows from them all and combines fresh fish and shellfish, saffron and short-grain rice, spicy chorizo sausage and a mixture of red bell peppers, onion and garlic.
A natural for entertaining, paella combines ingredients in a single pan to create a striking dish that will easily please a crowd.
The Paella can be started early in the day, but it must be assembled and cooked just before serving to assure a perfect tender-firm consistency to the rice. Follow the advance preparation timetable, then, about one hour before serving, put together the paella and place it in the oven, set a timer and join your guests.
The supporting dishes, all Spanish-influenced, are well suited to advance preparation. Start the meal Spanish-style with tapas--little appetizers--and sherry while the paella finishes cooking. Offer small plates and forks so guests can help themselves to the garlicky mushroom and scallop dish, served piping hot, and the chilled, parsley-flecked white fish and garbanzo beans, as well a the assorted olives and good crusty bread.
Dry sherry is a typical accompaniment for tapas. Select a pale, very dry fino, a manzanilla, or a golden, slightly nutty-flavored amontillado as an aperitif. With the paella, try a dry Spanish white wine such as Torres Vina Sol or Gran Vina Sol, a Spanish red Rioja or Rioja Reserva or a big rich Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley in Northern California.
Serve paella hot, warm or, in the Spanish style, at room temperature. For buffet service, cut everything into bite-size pieces and consider taking the clams and mussels out of the shells.
Follow the paella with a refreshing spinach salad studded with marinated grapes and toasted pine nuts, a new twist on a favorite Catalan vegetable dish of spinach sautéed with raisins and pine nuts.
A typical after-paella dessert at Los Caracoles is a whole orange to be peeled and eaten with a knife and fork, rather than fingers. Or a classic caramel-topped Spanish flan, in this case flavored with coffee and served with sliced oranges.
Paella Dinner for Eight
Baked Scallops and Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce
DAY BEFORE OR MORNING OF PARTY:
DAY OF PARTY:
BEFORE GUESTS ARRIVE:
The Seafood Kitchen
Paella's name comes from the Catalan word for the pan in which the traditional recipe is cooked (paellera), rather than the reverse, which is often the case with kitchen equipment. To accommodate the quantity of ingredients that go into paella, the pan is broad, measuring 14 to 20 inches across, and shallow 2 inches or so in depth.
Some or all of the cooking in any paella recipe will take place on top of the stove (or over an open fire in some parts of the Spanish countryside), so when choosing a paella pan consider sturdy metals such as steel or copper. This pan will become a useful addition to your kitchen, for sauteing or frying for a crowd. Terra-cotta pans, while offering an attractive rustic look, are most appropriate for oven cooking. Initial stove-top cooking should be done in another pan if you choose terra-cotta. The unique design of a paella pan gives the best cooking results, but a large shallow roasting pan can also be used, or a large skillet or saute pan if you are halving the recipe.
Paella allows for great flexibility when you're shopping for ingredients. For example, if lobster is unavailable or a bit pricey, purchase an additional pound of shrimp or a second variety of fish. If your fish market is having a special on one of the seafood ingredients, double its amount and omit other more expensive ingredients.