Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Quick paella

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 Quick paella We had so much fun with Andalusian gazpacho last week, let's stay in Spain to fashion a quick and easy version of paella.
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Quick paella

We had so much fun taking a culinary trip to Spain with last week's recipe for an authentic Andalusian gazpacho, let's continue our virtual voyage to Iberia for another session, with a quick look at the signature Spanish dish, paella.

Originally created in Valencia and first made with meat or poultry, paella was too good to keep at home and quickly spread over much of Spain, where seafood and fish became prized optional ingredients, either in addition to or instead of the meat.

Like so many kinds of lovable, hearty peasant fare, it was usually made in quantity, often cooked over an open wood fire in a large, round pan - la paella - that shares its name with the dish. (We'll leave the question of which came first, the paella or the pan, to philosophers who debate such things as the chicken and the egg.)

Pronounce it "Pah-AY-yah" and you'll come close enough to get served in a Spanish eatery. You can make it at home - it's not very difficult and doesn't have to be terribly time-consuming - and if you don't have a paella pan, a wok or any heavy skillet will work just fine.

This quick version that I threw together the other night may fail on authenticity points. Call it an invention made in the spirit of a true paella with speed and relative simplicity in mind - it should take well under an hour from start to finish and doesn't require any ingredients more exotic than paprika and saffron. But I don't think a hungry Spaniard would complain too much if someone served him a dish of it.


(Serves two generously)

Red onion, enough to make about 1 cup (240g) chopped
Red bell pepper, enough to make about 1/2 cup chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
4 ounces (120g) ham
2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
1/4 teaspoon (1g) saffron threads
1 teaspoon (5g) hot paprika or mild paprika and a dash of cayenne
2/3 cup (160ml) Arborio or other medium-grain rice
2 cups (a scant 1/2 liter) chicken stock
12 ounces (360g) large shrimp
12 small pimiento-stuffed olives


1. Peel the onion and chop it into small dice. Remove the seeds and ribs from the red bell pepper and chop it into similar dice. Peel the garlic and mince it fine, and dice the ham.

2. Put the olive oil over medium-high heat in a paella pan, wok or heavy skillet and cook until it sizzles. Saute the onions, garlic and bell pepper until they are soft and translucent; add the diced ham and continue cooking for a few more minutes until the vegetables start to brown. Stir in the saffron and paprika.

3. Add the dry rice to the browning vegetables and continue cooking until it's well mixed in and parches slightly. Pour in about 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan tightly, and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. While the rice is cooking, shell the shrimp and devein them if you wish. Cut the olives in half.

5. When the rice is cooked but still al dente, remove the cover and put the shelled shrimp on top of the rice. Drizzle them with the remaining chicken stock, cover the pan again, and cook for another 5 minutes or so, just until the shrimp turn pink and cook through. Stir one last time, garnish with the halved olives and serve.

MATCHING WINE: A dry white is best, and a little fizz wouldn't be amiss. It was excellent with a very young Gazela Vinho Verde from Portugal, but I wouldn't turn down a dry Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), an Albariño from Galicia in Spain, or even an Argentine Torrontes.

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