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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Rites: A recipe for joy!

The sun has been shining on my southeast rock garden, and just yesterday, as we celebrated "Pussy Willow Day" with all the joy and fanfare befitting the fuzzy delights, I saw them!

Cheery crocuses! Color! Spring! Another Celebration was in order! How about Saffron Rice! Bouillabaisse?

The party continued!

Do you use Saffron? It is very strongly perfumed, with an aroma of honey, with a pungent bitter-honey taste. Coming from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound which explains why it is the world’s most expensive spice.

A native of the Mediterranean, saffron is imported primarily from Spain but is also cultivated in India, Turkey, China and Iran. The name is from the Arabic word zafaran which means ‘yellow’. The French culinary term safrané means ‘coloured using saffron’. Its colouring properties have been as prized as its unique flavour. In India its colour is considered the epitome of beauty and is the official color of Buddhist robes. Saffron was also used to scent the baths and public halls of Imperial Rome.

Most specialty food shops carry saffron, though if it has sat on the shelves for too long it may have lost flavor, so look for bright color. Its most common function is to color rice yellow, as in festive Indian pilaus. It combines well with fish and seafood, infamous as a key ingredient of Spanish paella as well as bouillabaisse.

Because of its expense and intense flavor very little saffron is needed and the key is to distribute it evenly throughout the dish being prepared. It can be crushed to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle, but I find it is easier in some recipes to steep the saffron in hot water— a pinch to a cup will do. Good saffron should expand on contact with the water and a cup is enough to flavor and color a pound of rice.

We all crowded into the kitchen and opened a nice selection of Spanish Reds (perfect to pair with Paella) and cooked and toasted to spring, til we could laugh and eat no more! My houseguests are, in fact, still sleeping. Only the dogs got up with me. And now, as they're happily sprawled in the sun out on the deck, I'll share my recipe for pure paella joy with you!

Susan's Spring Celebration Paella

* Prepare Spice Mix for chicken

1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken; marinate for 1 hour, covered

* 1 (3-pound) frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1 Spanish onion, diced
* 4 garlic cloves, crushed
* Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserve some for garnish
* 1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
* 4 cups short grain Spanish rice
* 6 cups water, warm
* Generous pinch saffron threads
* 1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
* 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
* 2 lobster tails (optional)
* 1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
* Lemon wedges, for serving

Special equipment:

* Large paella pan or wide shallow skillet
* Organic Spanish Red Wines


Open the wine.

Rub the spice mix all over the chicken and marinate chicken for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the chorizo until browned, remove and reserve. Add chicken skin-side down and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.

In the same pan, make a "sofrito" by sauteing the onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on a medium heat. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Fold in the rice and stir-fry to coat the grains. Pour in water and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add chicken, chorizo, and saffron. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. The shrimp will take about 8 minutes to cook. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom, then it's perfect.

Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with peas, parsley and lemon wedges.

Open more wine!

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