Every secret I know about Chicken Paella, and all other variations on Paella (scroll down), I learned with my catering staff.
I inherited the secrets from the wonderful staff with whom I worked all my catering years, two of whom still serve as my assistants at my cooking workshops.
One day I decided to learn some rudiments of Spanish:
I might as well say it became my lifeline: if you work in a commercial kitchen, you will find that an overwhelming majority of workers speak only Spanish!
As soon as I started holding my own in Spanish, and that marked the beginning of a new era. My staff was in awe: I was finally one of their own!
Not “la patrona” any more, but Labana.
They have shared wonderful recipes with me, and laughed with delight at my faltering Spanish when I repeated the names of the dishes they now routinely prepared for all of us for lunch: Arroz con Gandules, Chicharrones de Pollo, Albondigas de Pescado, Platanos Fritos, Torta de Almendras. And of course Chiken Paella. Perfect Paella.
They assured me that the success of Paella did not depend on the presence of shellfish, or on the simultaneous presence of fish and meat or poultry (a no-no in kosher cooking), but on a mixture called Sofrito (onion, celery, garlic, parsley, cilantro, red pepper), which gets coarsely ground (long live the food processor. Couldn’t live without it!) and sautéed in a little olive oil and disperses in the dish in lovely green and red specks. In this dish I have added the sausage or smoked turkey to the Sofrito, but regular sofrito comes without, and is very versatile. You will love to have it on hand for soups, pasta and other beef and chicken dishes. Sofrito freezes very well, so consider making a large batch, and freeze it in small bags.
Saffron is essential, so be sure to include it!
Saffron is the essential ingredients in countless Mediterranean dishes. It will see expensive, but it goes a very long way. Get a larger container saffron, it will last you and will be much more cost-effective than those tiny vials!
Get your hands on a good quality naturally smoked sausage or turkey, or beef or lamb bacon
- 1 12-ounce package natural sage or beef bacon, crumbled, or smoked turkey, diced small
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 2 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
- 4 large cloves garlic
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 1 small bunch cilantro, stems discarded
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
- 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup tiny capers
- 1/2 cup sliced green pitted olives
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
- good pinch ground cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- generous pinch saffron
- salt and pepper to taste
- a dozen pieces chicken (drumsticks, thighs, half breasts, skin in, bone in)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups brown basmati rice
- 1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels, optional but a really nice touch
Place the sausage in a large wide bottom pot or skillet, on a high flame, and stir a minute or two, until the sausages look brown and the oil is rendered. Coarsely grind in a food processor the onion, celery, garlic, parsley, cilantro and red pepper (pulse: do not let mixture get watery). This mixture is your Sofrito.
Add the sofrito mixture to the pot, and sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes, and cook until only ½ cup of liquid remains in the pot.
Add all but last ingredient and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Stir in the corn and cook 1-2 more minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 8 servings.