What makes paella ‘authentic’ seems to be a contentious issue. Scroll through the comment section of almost any online recipe, and you won’t struggle to find the dispute. Lid versus newspaper, paella rice versus long grain, versus even risotto rice! Everyone’s having a go. One comment criticised a recipe’s authenticity, staking their claim to knowledge on their ex-partner’s brother’s father-in-law who was from Alicante. I have a friend who went to Alicante on holiday once (and doesn’t refrain from mentioning it), so maybe I too now understand Spanish cuisine. It isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these arguments, either: my first paella used a recipe branded as unauthentic.
But having made paella several times now, I have to come to a conclusion. What korma means to Britain, to Asia it does not. Do we squabble about it? No! Because we love the creamy, mild taste and savour those toasted nuts. And we still call it curry, even if it’s not really. If you’re still unconvinced, take a line from Shakespeare: “what’s in a name?“. The dish still uses rice, vegetables, meat or fish with largely the same cooking technique, whether in Britain or Spain. And it still tastes amazing. Paella is just the name attributed to dishes like this so people know what you’re on about! A name is by no means the most central part of a dish; that surely, would be its flavour. So very much in that vein, I urge you not to argue over whether the below is truly authentic paella. I’ll save you the trouble – growing scared of the ferocious rice-debate, I modified the paella I already knew how to make as I went along. Instead, focus on what it tastes like! And if you still can’t resist, I’ll let you call it Seafood Rice. If it makes you feel better.
Short grain rice, roughly 3 handfuls per person
1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
750ml fish stock
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
5 salad tomatoes, diced
A pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp of boiling water
Smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. (or a little more, to taste)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. add the sliced onion, and cook for 5-8 minutes until it begins to soften. Then add the garlic and paprika, and fry for a further minute. Fry the prawns until slightly browned, and then remove to a plate.
Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat well in the oil and spices. Add the hot stock and the saffron along with its water, stir to ensure all the rice is submerged, then cover. Reduce to a low heat, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
Then, add the sliced peppers and quartered tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly al dente. Stir the rice. It should have absorbed the majority of the stock, but a small sauce should still remain. If the rice has no sauce, it is in danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more stock or hot water.
Now add the mussels, peas and return the prawns to the pan. Check the level of stock, and if not too dry, replace the pad lid. Simmer for 4-7 minutes, steaming the mussels open. It’s important to monitor the mussels at this stage, as the longer the mussels cook for, the less palatable they will become. To ensure the mussels remain juicy, do not allow them to overcook!
As soon as the mussels have opened, remove them from the heat. Season, and scatter with fresh parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.
When people come to stay, I like to get food they like. Consequently, since my boyfriend went back home, there has been a lot of chorizo in the fridge, and I have had no idea what to do with it. Thus, tonight was my first attempt at chicken and chorizo paella, using an online recipe. And it was brilliant. I noted in the ‘comments’ section that somebody had angrily written that ‘real’ paella should never have chorizo in it, and so whilst admittedly this might apparently not be authentic paella, it is definitely delicious, and in my opinion, in this case, taste beats tradition.
The rice was tender, and vegetables cooked in stock with paprika gave the dish a fantastic sauce, full of flavour. The smokiness of the chorizo was complemented perfectly by the paprika, and the parsley gave the dish freshness throughout. The combination of these ingredients not only resulted in brilliant flavour, but presentation; the contrasting colours vividly stood out, making it look great on the plate. Moreover, the majority of the cooking process for this dish was simmering, enabling you to do other things whilst it cooked; I think this timing plus the easy presentation would make it a good dish to serve to company, as you would not be slave to the kitchen at the expense of your friends, nor slave to hosting at the expense of good food! This dish also has the added bonus of freezing – frozen portions guarantees a good meal being readily available in advance for those days where time is pushed!
Honestly, I have little or no criticism for this dish. I would perhaps next time experiment with using thighs and proper chorizo sausage, but as it was, for an end-of-week supper, it was excellent. More please!
Ingredients – for 2
Chorizo: you can use either sausage, or ‘platter’ style slices
Chicken: thighs are more traditional, but since I used chorizo anyway, authenticity was lost, so I used breast!
1 red onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
½ tbsp. smoked sweet paprika
Rice: I used long grain, because it’s cheaper than paella rice. Although it works just as well, short grain is preferable! Roughly 2 ½ – 3 handfuls per person
600ml chicken stock
1 red, 1 yellow pepper, sliced
Green beans, trimmed
3 large tomatoes, quartered
Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan (or saucepan) over a medium heat. If using chicken thighs, prick with a fork and add to the oil; cook until the skin is golden brown and the juices run clear, then remove to a plate. If using breast, cut into thick chunks and fry until golden, and keep in the pan.
If using chorizo sausage, slice into thick chunks and fry until golden – remove to the plate alongside the chicken thighs. If using chorizo platter slices, this will be added later instead.
Add the diced onion and cook until it begins to soften (roughly 5-8 minutes) then add the garlic and paprika and fry for a further minute.
Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat well in the oil and paprika. Add the hot stock, stir once to ensure all the rice is submerged, and then cover with a lid. Reduce to a low heat, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
If using chicken thighs, return them at this point to the pan. Then, add the sliced peppers, trimmed beans and quartered tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly al dente. Stir the rice. The rice should have absorbed the majority of the stock, but a small sauce should still remain. If the rice has no sauce, it is in danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan, so a little more stock or hot water.
Now add the chorizo. For the sausage, season and then transfer from the plate to the pan. If using platter slices, tear into rough slices, add to the pan and stir well until combined. Check the level of stock, and if not too dry, replace the pan lid, and simmer for 5 minutes more until warmed through.
Remove the lid, season, and stir in flatleaf parsley.
Serve, topping with a little more parsley, and lemon wedges if you want to make it look fancy!